Valuing Intergenerational Differences

Effectively managing in our emerging workplace can mean the difference between creating a high performance, energizing environment and an ineffective, highly frustrating environment. Often, getting to high performance begins with an understanding of our own ‘styles’ and appreciating the different approaches of others. This is particularly challenging when we may, for one of the first times in history, find 4 generations, maybe even 5 in the same workplace.

According to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), the following top trends are impacting most of us at work (SIOP, 2019):

  • Work/life balance interventions
  • Creating agile organizations
  • Data visualization and communication
  • Changing nature of work
  • Automation of jobs and tasks
  • Sexual harassment; #MeToo at work
  • ‘Gig economy’ = contract work
  • Working with Big Data
  • Diversity, inclusion and equity
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning

It becomes apparent that generational differences can be impacted by many of these trends, especially when we think about diversity and inclusions, the changing nature of our work, and automation/technology. To be effective, we will likely need to work collaboratively with people that view the world a bit differently from each other.

As we think about working with the different generations that make up our peers and supervisors, we need to find methods to ensure everyone feels valued at work.  Looking past the simple stereotypes we create of each generation, there is one commonality we can draw across all generations: the desire to feel valued and add valued at work (Davey, 2018). This requires us to take a deeper look at how we work together.

To start our exploration, let’s look at some of the common generational differences. As you review the table, below, you may identify yourself and the members of your team. This is a good thing!

Characteristics of the Generations

Profile Silent Boomer Generation X Millennial Generation Z
Years 1925-1945 1946-1964 1965-1979 1980-2000 2000-present
Size 26 million 73 million 66 million 72 million 86 million
Status @ work Aging out Declining Declining Stable Growing
Outlook Practical Optimistic Skeptical Hopeful Practical?
Work Ethic Dedicated Driven Balanced Ambitious Dedicated?
View of Authority Respectful Love/Hate Unimpressed Relaxed/Polite Respectful?
Leadership by Hierarchy Consensus Competence Achievers Service?
Relationships Personal Sacrifice Personal Gratification Reluctant to commit Loyal Connection?
Perspective Civic Team Self Civic Civic?
Technology Adapted Acquired Assimilated Integral Duh?
Focus Task Relationships and results Task and relationships Integrated Task and relationship
Messages Make do or without Sacrifice Consider the common good Be anything you want to be Work well with others Live up to expectations Don’t count on it. Get real Ask, ‘why?’ Be smart – you are special Connect 24/7 Achieve now! Serve your community ?
Persuasive Language Authority, discipline, leader, rank, sacrifice, consistent, stable Consensus, involvement, tolerance, trust, interpersonal, humane, team Alternative, reality, results, system, competent, pragmatic, sensible Achievement, collaborative, discovery, fun, positive, overcome, cutting edge ?
Work culture Stable, secure Advancement, team Flexible, efficient Positive, collaborative ?
Looking for… Consistency, respect for experience Leadership opportunities, good cause Development opportunities, efficiency Future oriented, challenge, flexibility ?

As we have often mentioned in our articles and workshops, gaining knowledge about a subject is a great start yet can fall short for leaders. As leaders, what we do with this new knowledge is critical! So, let’s explore an exercise to ‘walk in the shoes’ of another and appreciate the differences based on generations.

Consider completing, or at least thinking about, what value would members of each generation bring to…

Note: we used Boomer, Gen X and Millennial as an illustration.

  Boomers Gen X Millennial (Gen Y)
Solving complex tasks      
Creating a sense of value and worth      
Collaborating      
Recognizing achievement      

As we conclude, Knight (2014), suggests several methods for effectively managing in a multigenerational workplace which include:

  • Don’t dwell on differences
  • Build collaborative relationships
  • Study your employees
  • Create opportunities for cross-generational mentoring
  • Consider life paths

We also want to remember that everyone wants to feel valued at work, regardless of age, demographic or generation. Highly successful multi-generational teams identify, value and build on the skills and experiences of one another. When we focus on appreciating individual strengths, rather than highlighting the focus on generational differences, we increase our ability to thrive in the modern workplace.

Resources:

Davey, L. (2018). The key to preventing generational tension is remembering that everyone wants to feel valued. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/07/the-key-to-preventing-generational-tension-is-remembering-that-everyone-wants-to-feel-valued?utm_campaign=hbr&utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=social

Knight, R. (2012). Managing people from 5 generations. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/09/managing-people-from-5-generations

SIOP Top Workplace Trends 2019. Retrieved from https://www.siop.org/Research-Publications/Items-of-Interest/ArtMID/19366/ArticleID/1639/It%E2%80%99s-the-Same-Only-Different

Post is written by Drs. Sheila Boysen, Lesley Page and Michael Cherry

About Dr. Lesley Page

Lesley Page is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Organizational Leadership at Lewis University. (http://www.lewisu.edu/academics/mals/) She is an expert in organizational change, employee engagement and emotional / spiritual intelligence.

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