Many Generations in the Workplace

With so many generations in the workplace, how do you find common ground to work optimally together?

Currently there are four generations in the workplace.  They are:

  • WW II generation (born before 1943)
  • Baby Boomers (born between 1944 and 1963)
  • Generation X (born between 1964 and 1984)
  • Gen Y or Millennials (born between 1985 and 2005)

Research has shown that each generation views work and careers differently though many experts disagree on the degree to which their perspective vary.  Furthermore, it is necessary to realize that this is at best imprecise, and those born on or around a so-called boundary years (i.e. 1963 between Boomers and Xers) might very well be inclined to be with one generation or the other.

I believe it is still important for effective leaders to be aware of these potential differences in perspective if they are going to maximize performance and fully understand how different members of the team may approach a problem or work/life balance.   This is also not an “airy fairy” effort to achieve an artificial diversity goal but can be of value to any team for a number of reasons.

  • An expansion of the number of creative ideas available to you
  • Better contacts with your customer or client base
  • Access to a wider range of problem solvers
  • Reduction in tensions and hostilities across demographic and generational lines
  • An increased appreciation of different people, ideas, and general respect for others

Research has shown that perhaps the biggest factor in working across the “divide” is establishing trust with each other across generational lines.  This may often times require a good deal of listening by the leader to determine why and how alternative approaches are proposed.  For example, in general, Boomers tend to value competence. Xers value relationship/communication and seem to have a greater need for open discussion.

Probably the best place for the leader to start is to get the team to focus on what they agree on.  It is also important to keep in mind that other factors affect how individuals confront problems and work effectively on teams.  It should not be surprising to learn that generally men and women often have different perspectives of what leaders do and how they do it.  The literature further suggests culture also influences individual perceptions, roles and identities. Surveys of cross-generational teams also indicates that in addition to culture, gender, age, and education are important, and these factors influence each other. If you only look at one factor, it may lead you to mistaken conclusions.

It is critical to keep in remember that not every member of generation is “that way”.  Failing to keep this in mind can potentially create biases in dealing with other generations.  Finally, it is useful to keep in mind the words of Winnie the Pooh!  What makes me different…is what makes me….Me!

-Dr. Jeff McCausland