By Kay Oder
Diversity issues have existed for several decades in the workplace. They are typically derived from differences in ethnicity, gender, race and age. Although corporate America is still faced with balancing all areas of diversity, it has reached a historic precedence when it comes to age.
For the first time in history, four generations of employees are now working together. Each group has its unique strengths and differences, and is often misunderstood by the other, thus resulting in conflict.
According to a survey conducted by BridgeWorks, 65 percent of employees agreed that generation gaps make it harder to get things done at work. In addition, one-third of the respondents said they were often offended by someone from another generation at work.
In order to cultivate a more cohesive environment, companies must educate themselves and their employees on the generational differences. Research indicates that with the unstable economy, many older employees will continue to work past retirement age. Therefore, this trend of multiple generations working together is unlikely to change.
It’s important for all employees to recognize the different core values and attributes that set each group apart. The following list consists of generalized characteristics that typically define each generation.
Traditionalists were born prior to 1945 and are currently 63 years or older. Also referred to as “Veterans,” this generation is characterized as loyal, conservative, detail-oriented and respectful of authority. When it comes to leadership styles, they prefer a top-down chain of command, which may be the result of more than half of the men in this group having served in the military. Traditionalists are also known as conformists and value acknowledgement for their experience and work.
Baby Boomers include people born between 1946 and 1964, who are approximately 44-62 years old. Currently known as the largest and most influential generation, Baby Boomers are viewed as competitive workaholics who are optimistic and results-oriented. They want respect and feel everyone should pay their dues in order to move ahead. Baby Boomers often take personal satisfaction from their contributions in the workplace. They are known to be relationship-focused and thrive on meetings. Baby Boomers are also nonconformists who question authority. Recent studies have reported that many Baby Boomers plan to continue to work past retirement age, possibly in a part-time capacity.
Generation X encompasses people born between 1965 and 1980, who are currently 28 to 43 years old. As the first generation to grow up alongside technology, Generation X is often characterized as independent self-starters with entrepreneurial and flexible traits. While they like to be given structure and direction, Generation X doesn’t like to be micromanaged. They can be loyal employees, but are also known to not feel attached to any one organization like previous generations. This group craves flexibility and work-life balance.
Generation Y consists of people between 1981 and 2000, currently aged 27 and younger. Also known as the “Millenials,” this generation is fast-approaching the Baby Boomers in numbers. Generation Y can be characterized as confident non-conformists who are collaborative, open-minded and socially conscious. They’ve never lived without technology. This group can be very demanding since they usually get what they want, particularly when it comes to moving ahead in the workplace. Generation Y seeks personal satisfaction in their work, and as a result have the highest turnover rate. While this generation is very capable of multi-tasking, it also expects flexible hours and work-life balance.
There are several improvements organizations can make to help these four distinct groups work better together and stay motivated.
Each generation has its own preferred method of communication. A Traditionalist or Baby Boomer might prefer a face-to-face meeting whereas a Generation X or Y employee may prefer e-mail. To help resolve potential issues, employees need to consider accommodating each group’s style. For example, an occasional face-to-face talk instead of only sending e-mails to an older co-worker goes a long way in showing flexibility.
Many older employees may retire or take on a part-time position in the upcoming years. Mentoring is a great way to prepare for this transition and also allows employees to learn from one another. It’s important to make sure older employees are offering suggestions and providing feedback rather than “telling” younger employees what to do. In addition, older employees are just as eager to learn as their younger co-workers. While the older generation may not be as technologically savvy as the younger ones, they are capable of using technology in some capacity and will probably welcome the opportunity to learn more.
Customize motivation and incentives
It’s important to find the right motivation for each group. While older employees may value monetary incentives for hard work on a project, younger employees might prefer time off from work.
More creative recruiting
With a growing number of Generation Y entering the workforce and many Traditionalists and Baby Boomers staying, companies also need to rethink their recruiting. Flexible hours and telecommuting are very appealing to younger and older workers alike. Many companies are also offering volunteering as a benefit to attract Generation Y, which has the highest volunteer rate.
Most employees want to contribute and feel good about what they’ve accomplished at work. It’s the responsibility of all companies to help employees understand their diversity and find common ground to respect each other and work together.
There is overlap in the definitions of these generations, but here are the most common.
Baby Boomer—is a term used to describe a person who was born during the demographic Post-World War II baby boom 1946 to 1964.
Generation X—originally referred to as the “baby bust” and most commonly describes those born between 1965 and 1980.
Generation Y—a.k.a. Echo Boomers, Millenials and Net Generation—most commonly used to describe those born between 1981 and 2000.
Kay Oder is a district manager for Administaff in the Austin market and can be reached at 800-465-3800 or Kay_Oder@administaff.com.
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