Are you managing a team of much younger or older individuals that seem to be speaking another language? This very common scenario is being played out in many organizations today. Blending workers from various generations isn’t easy, but there are certain approaches that make bridging that divide easier.
The most effective approach is to learn about each generation. Once we understand each other we can appreciate what people with vastly different experiences can offer. We can then put their talents and insights to good use.
The multigenerational populations making up today’s workforce consist of:
- Baby boomers born from 1946 – 1964 = 75 million
- Generation X (Gen Xers) born from 1965 – 1978 = 50 million
- Millennials (Gen Y) born from 1979 – 1999 = 70 million
By looking at information from generational studies, we can better understand all people:
When baby boomers grew up their mother’s didn’t work. The world held promise as they witnessed man walking on the moon. This era included the Vietnam War, President Kennedy and his brother Robert being assassinated, along with Martin Luther King Jr., the leader of the civil rights movement. There was mass upheaval, but they still grew up to work in corporate America and stuck with one job or career.
Boomers believe in the traditional hierarchy, one that values age and experience. They like challenges; they’ll work hard and accept responsibility. Boomers respond well to praise so use that for motivation and show respect.
This is the first generation when mothers held jobs, so these were latchkey kids. The U.S. economy struggled and so did families. This is when AIDS became a threat, the Challenger exploded on TV and insecurity prevailed. Gen Xers were described as lazy with short attention spans craving entertainment. But once they married and bought houses, they became responsible.
In managing Gen Xers, understand they don’t have the tenure of boomers and lack the technological skills of millennials. Being latchkey kids, they’re independent, hardworking, creative and ambitions, preferring to work on their own. With clear directions you can leave them to the task. They value work-life balance, so allow flexibility.
Millennials had an entirely different experience, having been raised by overly indulgent parents. Mothers worked but were very involved in their kids’ lives, as were fathers. Millennials brought in the digital age, revolutionizing the workforce. As kids they had team activities, from school projects to sports so they’re comfortable collaborating. They are highly educated, more than any generation in history.
Due to hefty college loans, they’re postponing marriage, kids and home ownership. They have been described as the “me generation,” lazy, addicted to smartphones and narcissistic. But this perception could be wrong once they reach those traditional milestones.
Having had very involved parents, millennials are confident. Managers should harness this. They’re very skilled users of technology and its vast network, highly efficient workers, with the ability to access information the company needs very quickly.
Millennials embrace Web-based educational programs and training, so utilize these tools. Managers should let them work in teams where they’re most productive.
Across the Generational Divide
To really understand someone you need to listen, really listen. If we listen, people are more likely to listen to us. This builds trust and credibility. In listening you will find that problems are not usually due to age, but to something else entirely.
Leaders are promoting younger people into positions of authority over some much older due to the need for technological agility. Managers should promote understanding of each age segment and show appreciation for what each has to offer.