Four Generations in the workplace…

Last week I attended a presentation by Deanne DeMarco about understanding the value of each generation and how we can work better together. 

As I am part of Gen Y,  I have to say I didn’t really realize how many generations were working together at companies today.  But listening to her presentation and really thinking about and understanding the differences in generations and how they view work and the values that they hold all made sense.

Let’s take a brief look at the generations that are at work today. (Keep in mind that the names and dates of these generations vary slightly depending on where you are getting your information.) 

  • Silents/Traditionalists/Veterans (1925-1946): Core Values: Respect for authority, discipline, older managers with younger direct reports. Their values were shaped by events such as the Great Depression, WWII, and the postwar boom years.  They have a strong commitment to teamwork and have a high regard for developing interpersonal communication skills.  They grew up in an era of hand written memos, a rotary phone and one-on-one discussions. It was then that a handshake was viewed the same as a written contract.  Work values: hard work, sacrifice, duty before fun and adhering to the rules.  They lead in a directive and command-to-control kind of way.
  • Baby Boomers (1946-1964): Core values: optimism and involvement. Their values were shaped by events such as the rise in civil rights activism, Viet Nam and inflation.  They are more open to change than the silents but also have a sense of entitlement and personal gratification. They grew up in an era of touch-tone phones and a call me anytime mentality. Many of the baby boomers will have to work longer and retire later (if at all) due to the losses felt with the fall of the era. Work values: workaholics, work efficiently, personal fulfillment, desire quality and question authority.  The lead in a collegial sense.
  • Gen X (1965-1980): Core values: skepticism, fun and informality. Born during a time of declining population, this generation is viewed as “slackers”.  However, they possess strong technical skills and are more dependent than the silents and baby boomers.  Because they place a low priority on work and are responsible for creating the work/life balance many in the baby boomer generation view them as not dedicated to their job and company. They grew up in an era of cell phones and a time when you only called me when I’m at work attitude. Work values: eliminate the task, self-reliance, skeptical and they want structure and direction.  They lead in a “everyone is the same” manner and always ask why.
  • Gen Y/Millennials (born after 1980): Core values: realism, confidence, extreme fun and socialism. Their values shaped by events such as 9-11 and increase in global terrorism and the rapid growth of the internet.  They are the most educated of the generations at work today and share many common values of generations before: willingness to work from the baby boomers and patriotism and family values from the silents.  They live in an era with internet, email, text messaging, picture phones and the ability to stay connected socially with the world at any time. Work values: goal oriented, multitasking, entrepreneurial, tolerant and ask “what’s next?”  They do not have a defined leadership style at this time.

Seeing the many differences in the generations raises the question of “how can we all work together to achieve the same goals?”

Here are just a few things that can be done in a company to help bridge the gap in generations and create a successful working culture:

  • Reevaluate how your company strategy is being conveyed to the company.  Each generation will view this communication differently. I’m not suggesting that there needs to be a separate strategy for each generation in the company… just suggesting that it can be conveyed in different ways.  So adapting the communication method to reach each generation would help to ensure that EVERYONE in all generations were working toward the same company strategy.
  • Mentoring: Having a mentoring program in place for individuals from different generations to get together and discuss obstacles that they each see in the workplace and what their take on overcoming the obstacle would be can really engage positive energy throughout the workforce.  As constructive conversations are being had on the same obstacle, each generation can see how the other would handle the challenge and grow their own knowledge base.  Another thing that all companies experience in one way or another… as the older generation workers retire and leave the company and the younger generations move up the ladder, the knowledge that the older generations have is lost.  This sharing of knowledge will also help ensure that the company’s history doesn’t get lost as the older generations retire and the younger generations move up. 

How will companies need to adapt to accommodate the wide span of generations at work?

Companies will need to evaluate what each generation is focused on and adjust some of their company values and compensation plans.  Since baby boomers will need to work longer and retire later, they will care more about their time off and less about just their compensation. The option for them to go to a part-time basis and still receive full benefits would also be something that companies can look at doing in order to keep employees longer without having to spend on hiring and training new employees. But looking at Gen Y, who are planning their retirements not relying on social security and more on their savings and 401K, they will want a solid 401K plan and better compensation for their skills. 

Another thing for companies to do is embrace the diversity of the generations.  One way to do this, which a lot of companies are starting to do, is to create resource groups within the company to bring associates together and discuss issues and share experiences.  This can be done based on generations, gender, ethnic groups or interests.  Not only will this bring together employees within the company and help them to feel more valued, but groups can also host events and gatherings for the whole company to share their knowledge with others. 

So what does this mean??

The most important thing to take away from all of this is to EMBRACE each generation and what they can bring to the table.  Each generation has skills and knowledge that are crucial to the survival of the company. Getting everyone to share their attributes with one another can only benefit the company as a whole.  Focusing solely on how everyone is different will only cause turmoil within the organization.

Do you have any thoughts or ideas about how the four generations can work together in today’s times?  Let me know!

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2 Responses to Four Generations in the workplace…

  1. Renata says:

    Kim, Interesting post on generations. On this topic you might be interested to see this video post “Jack in the box” by Vineet Nayar where he asks if the organisations are ready for Gen Y?

  2. kkraynak says:

    Renata, that definitely is a good question. I think that it will take some time before there can be a definite answer as to whether or not organizations (and education-as mentioned in the video) are ready for Gen Y… but ready or not, they are coming and will need to be incorporated into the workforce. I guess it’s time now that everyone start preparing for them 🙂

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