The New Melting Pot: Effectively lead different generations
in the workplace
By Anne Houlihan
group of strangers together, ask them to work side-by-side in the
same building or office for eight or more hours each day, and you’re
bound to have some conflict. And when that group of people contains
people from differing generations, all with different values and
views of the world, the amount of conflict your office experiences
can greatly multiply.
and motivating a diverse workforce can certainly be challenging. As
more and more people from the youngest generation enter the
workforce and work alongside the most senior employees, many
managers are learning that a one-size-fits-all management style
simply does not exist. That’s because each of the four generations
now working side-by-side bring unique viewpoints to the table and
let generation specific values guide their daily actions.
want to effectively lead your staff despite any generational
differences and encourage others to learn from the diversity of the
group, then consider the following guidelines.
Identify who the four generations encompass: The first step to
reducing conflict caused by generational differences is to know
which generation each of your employees fall into. The four
The Veterans (also called the Traditionals),
born between 1922 and 1946
The Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964
Generation X, born between 1964 and 1980
The Millennials (also called Generation Y or the
Nexters), born between 1980 and 2000
that each of these four generations grew up experiencing
significantly different events—events that have shaped their values
and their perception of work. For example, the Veterans went through
World War II and grew up with a strict regimen. As such, quality,
respect, and authority are important to them. Baby Boomers embraced
the value of having to sacrifice to get ahead. All that sacrifice
makes them very loyal. Generation X were the latchkey children who
watched their Boomer parents forge a new workplace. They were also
the first generation to grow up with technology. As such, this
generation cares more about productivity and less about the number
of hours spent on the job. Millennials are a generation entrenched
in technology. They are the consummate multi-taskers and bore
easily. Because they best understand how to maximize and leverage
the new technology, they value a balanced lifestyle and equality on
Draw on the strengths of each generation: Once you know which of
your employees fall into the various generation groups, you can help
them understand each other so they can focus on each other’s
strengths. Current research indicates that the majority of conflicts
arise from the value differences of the age groups rather than the
actual age difference itself. So it’s more about “my values are the
right ones and yours are not.” For example, Veterans may think the
“young kids” in the workplace are lazy, while the Millennials or
Generation X’ers may think the Veterans and even Baby Boomers are
too rigid. However, if all the generations are open-minded, they can
learn much from each other.
that each generation brings wonderful strengths to the workplace.
And while focusing on our own individual strengths is certainly
important, imagine how much more effective everyone on your team
could be if you each learned from the strengths of others as well.
So publicly acknowledge what each generation’s strengths are and
encourage everyone to share their viewpoints and values with the
group. Once you get the dialogue started, the learning naturally
Adapt your management style for each generation: Leading four
different generations often requires you to have four different
management styles. For example, a Baby Boomer manager was managing a
Millennial employee. Every day at 5 p.m. the employee finished his
work for the day, shut down his computer, and headed home. Even
though the employee was scheduled to leave work at 5pm, and there
were no major projects or deadlines looming, the manager wanted to
write up the employee for not staying later. The real problem was
that the Baby Boomer manager valued long hours on the job, while the
Millennial employee valued life balance. The point is that you can’t
manage according to your value system. Rather, you need to manage
according to the employee’s value system.
Likewise, when conflict does arise, you need to put your biases
aside. So if a Veteran and a Gen X’er are having challenges with
each other, and you’re a Gen X manager, you can’t naturally side
with your fellow Gen X’er, just because you share the same values.
Rather, you need to be objective, understand the communication style
of each person involved, and manage according to the situation and
the people involved.
Accept what you cannot change: No matter how hard you try, you
cannot change the generations. Instead, acknowledge the validity of
each generation’s values and change how you motivate the different
generations. That is, incorporate different motivational techniques
into your management style. Find out what each person wants as a
motivational incentive. For example, a Gen X’er may want time off
for a good job, while a Veteran may want a monetary bonus. Ask your
employees what they find motivating and then offer that incentive.
Give people choices. After all, if someone really values family and
wants time off to spend with his or her loved ones, all the money in
the world won’t make that person happy. Rather, he or she will seek
out a company that offers ample time off, even if it means accepting
a lower salary.
Successful Company…for Generations to Come: Business is
challenging enough. Don’t let generational differences complicate
your company. By following these guidelines for managing a
generationally-diverse workplace you can more effectively draw on
all the strengths of your team, which in turn makes you a stronger
company. And in a marketplace where only the strong survive, you
need all your team members—young and old—focused on the same
objectives and working together effectively.
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