Baby Boomers are lingering in the workplace. Economic uncertainty has caused many to remain on the job.
The younger Gen X and Gen Y are growing impatient to ascend to leadership responsibilities, and new graduates are knocking at HR’s door in record numbers.
Until we see the inevitable changing of the guard over the next decade, the workplace will be inhabited by a multigenerational stew. Learning how to work, live and play together is crucial.
Who Are the Generations?
First, a quick review of how the generations are grouped in the modern workplace:
Veterans, born between 1922 and 1945. This cohort was born before or during World War II. Earliest experiences are associated with this world event. Some also remember the Great Depression.
The Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. This generation was born during or after World War II and was raised in an era of extreme optimism, opportunity and progress. Boomers, for the most part, grew up in two-parent households, with safe schools, job security and post-war prosperity. On the job, they value loyalty, respect the organizational hierarchy and generally wait their turn for advancement.
Generation X, born between 1965 and 1979. These workers were born during a rapidly changing social climate and economic recession, including Asian competition. They grew up in two-career families with rising divorce rates, downsizing and the dawn of the high-tech/information age. On the job, they can be fiercely independent, like to be in control and want fast feedback.
Generation Y (the New Millennials), born between 1980 and 2000. Born to Boomer and early Gen Xer parents into our current high-tech, neo-optimistic times, these are our youngest workers. They are the most technologically adept, fast learners and tend to be impatient.
How Are They Different?
Baby Boomers occupy most positions of power and responsibility on organizational charts. Most of today’s corporate management practices still reflect the systems and values of their predecessors, the veterans.
Gen Xers and Millennials aren’t interested in “the way things have always been done.” Rather, they’re single-mindedly focused on what it takes to reach their perceived career destination.
This group shuns past definitions of success: climbing the company ladder and earning the rewards that come with greater responsibility. The company ladder, in their view, is irrelevant.
The new generation of workers has:
A work ethic that no longer respects or values 10-hour workdays
An easily attained competence in new technologies and a facility to master even newer ones with little discomfort
Tenuous to nonexistent loyalty to any organization
Changed priorities for lifetime goals achievable by employment
Clash Point #1: How We View Work
Older workers talk about “going to work” and have always had a specified work schedule like 9-to-5. Younger workers view work as “something you do” anywhere, any time. They communicate 24/7 and expect real-time responses.
To younger workers, success is defined not by rank or seniority, but by what matters to each person individually. They don’t want to be paid for time, but for their services and skills. For those with working spouses and children, work-life balance and flexible conditions have greater priority.
Clash Point #2: Communications
Ask anyone over the age of 40 about younger workers, and you’ll hear stories about texting, cell phones and ear buds. These tech-immersed young workers are just as frustrated with older workers, who respond days later and think setting up a team meeting is the answer, when a few text messages could get faster results.
Older workers can’t expect the newer generation to digress into the past. Technology needs to be understood and used by everyone to improve productivity.
Clash Point #3: Meetings
Older workers expect a phone call or visit on important issues and will immediately schedule and plan a meeting to involve significant stakeholders. This frustrates younger workers, who want to meet on the spur of the moment, as soon as possible.
They see nothing wrong with texting superiors and peers instead of scheduling face-to-face meetings, and they like to communicate and solve problems virtually. When faced with a need to meet, they try to contact everyone immediately and begin videoconferencing, chatting, texting, talking and tweeting – often all at the same time.
Older colleagues prefer to find a time and day that fits everyone’s schedule – which can delay meeting for days or weeks. They fit things into their routines and calendars. To Gen Y, the ritual of workplace scheduling is stifling, unproductive and a waste of time.
Clash Point #4: Learning
Older generations are linear learners, comfortable sitting in classes, reading manuals and pondering materials before beginning to implement new programs.
Newer workers learn “on demand,” which to Boomers means they just want to “wing it,” figuring things out as they go. Gen-Y learning is interactive, using the Internet, Wikipedia and blogs.
Gen Y doesn’t hesitate to call a friend or send an email directly to the CEO. They ask questions and get their information instantaneously. They are easily bored by training sessions, manuals and programs that spoon-feed information over time.
Issues You Can’t Ignore
Combined, Gen X and Gen Y already outnumber Boomers and Veterans. Boomers no longer hold the majority vote, although most hold positions of power.
This transition is not something organizations can ignore. Managers must learn to leverage each generation’s strengths for the benefit of all, or risk becoming less productive.
There is no room to allow tradition and convenience to hinder performance and productivity. There’s also not much room for generational judging or complaining.
Managers must create opportunities for a multigenerational work force to share its differences.
As your coach I partner with you to manage such transition. I help you learn to leverage each generation’s strengths in order to be more productive.
I have a few spots available for November coaching. Call me right now.