Managing the Generation Mix in the Workplace - Tips to Manage the Generation Gap


By: Dale Mask

Values often collide when members of different generations work together. In today's complex mix of generations, Traditionalists are found working with Boomers and Boomers working with Generation Xers. Trends toward later retirement means that Traditionalists are still working and Generation Xers are quickly moving into positions of power and influence where they are supervising and leading members of older generations.

Each generation has different work values, different perceptions of authority, and different views about what is important in life in general. This is often referred to as the generation gap. If cross-generation team managers are not prepared for these differences in values, it can create conflict, poor performance and low morale in the workplace. Cross-generational team members also need training to overcome the same challenges. 

Understanding the generation gap can make the workplace more productive.

Inter-generational training can help managers understand what makes their younger and older employees tick. Here are some tips to help managers manage the generation gap. These tips can help managers communicate with and motivate employees of a different generation than their own.

Today, the typical workplace population includes several generations. Although the specific birth year and name for each group may vary slightly from one authority to the next, here are generally accepted names and ages of today’s workplace generations:

  • Traditionalists – Born  prior to 1947
  • Baby Boomers – Born 1947-1965
  • Generation Xers – Born 1966 -1977
  • Generation Y or Nexters – Born after 1977

Baby Boomers make up the largest percentage of the population according to U.S. Census statistics.

Boomers are generally considered to be people currently between the ages of 42 - 60 (born between 1947 - 1965). When discussing this group, we can't forget the Traditionalists, the parents of the Baby Boomer. Traditionalists are the War Babies or the Veterans who are now older than 60. Then come the younger generations. The Generation Xers are people in the 30 - 41 age group (born between 1966 - 1977).  Then we have our youngest employees, the Generation Y or Nexters. They are employees under 30 (born after 1978). They are the “cyber kids.” They grew up using the Internet. To them, high-speed access to information is something that has just always been there.

Each generation has different work values.

Fundamental value differences exist between individuals of different generations. Understanding these values helps us understand differences that may arise in the workplace. When we understand the value system shared by generational groups, then we can better understand their diverse beliefs and behaviors. We may not agree with the values of different generations, but we can strive to understand the mind-sets of different generations and how each group sees the world and the workplace

Just as it is important to recognize the many dimensions of diversity (including race, sex, and culture) that shape who we are and how we behave, we must also recognize the values that impact communication between generations in the work environment.

Research shows members of each generation have a tendency to exhibit similar characteristics. However, there are always exceptions and you should be careful not to stereotype employees based on these tendencies. Let’s look at some basic workplace values of each generational group. Keeping the following points in mind can help you understand an individual's perspective and allow you to more effectively manage their work and their work environment.

Traditionalist Values

Traditionalists’ values are influenced by the experiences that often include the hardships of their parents and grandparents immigrating to a new country and making their way in a “new” land. The Traditionalist values are also impacted by experiences they had during the Great Depression and World War II, both of which shape how they view the world.

  • Privacy:  Don't expect members of this generation to share their inner thoughts.
  • Hard Work:  They believe in paying their dues and are irritated when others are wasting their time. They often feel that their career identifies who they are. 
  • Trust:  A Traditionalist's word is his/her bond. 
  • Formality: This generation values formal dress and organizational structures. 
  • Authority: Traditionalists have a great deal of respect for authority. 
  • Social Order:  Other generations may view this desire for social order and placement as bias, prejudice or even racism or sexism. 
  • Things:  This group loves their stuff and they will not get rid of it. Some would argue that they remember the Depression days and keep a "you never know when you might need it" mentality.

Baby Boomer Values

Baby Boomers represent the children of our World War II veterans. They did not go through the economic hard times as their parents did. They had the good life and their parents, the Traditionalists, wanted them to have the best and as a result, the "Me" decade arrived.

  • Competition: Boomers value peer competition. 
  • Change: Boomers thrive on possibilities and constant change. 
  • Hard Work: Boomers started the "workaholic" trend. Where Traditionalists see hard work as the right thing to do, Boomers see it as a way to get to the next level of success.
  • Success: Boomers are committed to climbing the ladder of success. 
  • Teamwork: This group embraces a team-based approach to business. They do not depend on the command and control style of the Traditionalist. 
  • Anti Rules and Regulations: They were the “Hippies.” They do not need to conform to the rules and they will challenge the system. 
  • Inclusion: This generation will accept people who will perform to their standards. 
  • Fight for a Cause: While they do not seek out problems, if you give them a cause they will fight for it.

Generation Xer Values

Generation Xers are economically conservative. They remember double-digit inflation and the stress faced by their parents dealing with times on and off unemployment. As a result, they do not rely on institutions for their long-term security like their predecessors did.

  • Entrepreneurship:  Xers believe in investing in their own development rather than in their organization's. They are cautious about investing in relationships with employers because experience has shown that these relationships are not reliable. 
  • Loyalty: To an Xer, loyalty may mean two-weeks notice. (If you want loyalty, get a dog, may be their attitude.)
  • Independence:  Xers have clear goals and prefer managing their own time and solving their own problems rather than being controlled by a supervisor. 
  • Information: They want access to information and love plenty of it. 
  • Feedback: This group needs lots of feedback and they use feedback to adapt to new situations. 
  • Quality of Work-life: This generation will work hard, but they would rather find quicker, more efficient ways of working so they can have more free time. They will work hard to move up the ladder, to have more personal time for themselves and family. 
  • Communication: Xers like quick “sound bites.” Email is preferred over long meetings and letters.

Generation Y (often called Nexters) Values

Generation Y represents people who grew up during the high-tech revolution. A world with high-tech video games, ATMs and high-speed access is what their generation is used to. Providing frequent and systematic feedback in real time (as it happens) is critical when working with members of this generation. 

  • Positive Reinforcement: This “cyber generation” values positive reinforcement at accelerated rates. 
  • Autonomy: Nexters want more input into how they are doing and want to work with a good deal of independence. 
  • Positive Attitudes: Growing up during peace times, they have a very optimistic outlook on life in general. 
  • Diversity: Through community and media coverage, this group has grown up with more diversity than their predecessors.  
  • Money: Generation Y is used to making and spending money. 
  • Technology: Technology is their valued tool for multi-tasking.
  • Action: Generation Y likes action, accepts challenges and looks for the challenge of opportunity.

Managing the Generational Mix  

How do we keep a group of employees with a diverse generational mix motivated in today's workplace?

The first step to making generational diversity work is to understand what motivates members of different generations.

The second step is to institute management techniques that are flexible enough to meet the needs of each generation.

Top business leaders recognize that the changing demographics of the workplace effects both morale and productivity. Many companies have incorporated inter-generational training as a key component to their leadership development and management training programs.

In these training sessions, participants experience how different generations react and interact with each other. The training focuses on opening the channels of communication, creating a working environment to address the needs of incoming generations, and matching people and job responsibilities that challenge and motivate people appropriately. 

We believe it is important to focus not only on what work needs to get done, but also on the values and work styles of the various generations who are doing the work.

By: Dale Mask

© 2015 Alliance Training and Consulting, Inc.



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