Updated: Mar 21
Hello beautiful humans!
How does the Generation Gap affect the workplace and what can we do about it?
Understanding the various cultures of different generations can help us to learn to communicate more effectively and understand how we can overcome the obstacles that each generation gap creates. This could not be more important than it is in the workplace. Trying to blend and meld employees from three or more generations can be a stressful challenge, but it can be done.
*Side Note - Before accusing generations of being at fault, be sure to check the facts first. Example: Boomers are often blamed by Millennials for the impending doom of the planet, however, the fact is increasing pollution of the planet started with the Industrial Revolution between 1760-1840. This would be the approximate eras of the Compromising, Transcendental and Gilded generations. Nearly 100 years preceding the Baby Boomer generation.
More than just a name
Each generation has dominant traits that are found in the majority of individuals from that generation. The main traits of a generation have a direct impact on how people 'show up' and react in all aspects of their lives. Don't believe me? Give a Gen Xer an overabundance of praise for something miniscule. They will often become uncomfortable, provide alternative individuals who 'deserve it more', shrug it off as no big deal or think you are wanting something from them. In stark contrast, Millenials and Zoomers (even Boomers to a degree) want and sometimes need that praise and recognition of their accomplishments... in abundance.
A great example of how generation traits affect work life lies within the Silent Generation. This generation lived through the Great Depression (1929 - 1933). This caused them to be very cautious and prudent with their money often resorting to hoarding. They had a constant need to feel financially secure even after the Depression ended. Employers knew this and used it. Employees would work twice as hard as necessary in poor conditions and for far less than what they deserved all in the name of financial security.
Although employers would be hard pressed to try atrocities in today's American business world, it is still important to understand the basic common traits of each generation, how to communicate with them, bring them together and keep them engaged in the workplace. If we can understand some of these traits we can understand how to train and lead our employees making a more committed team and stronger, more loyal work force.
How these traits affect the workplace
Baby Boomers are known for their work ethics. They are hard-workers and will do the job until it is done and they will do it well. They often feel defined by their position as part of their self-worth. They value that visibility, not necessarily the celebration of their successes as much as the acknowledgement of them. They are normally quite loyal to their company and position. They can be very self-sufficient, optimistic and competitive.
Generation X (being independent and more attentive to the importance of family life) desire to have more flexibility and an informal environment in the workplace. Underpaying and overworking a Gen Xer will most likely lead to a position in the workplace that will need to be filled. They can be very dedicated to an employer who values their skills and experience and allows them to just do their job... their way with minimal supervision! You may also find them to be quite independent. They would rather take on every task at hand and just 'do it themselves' than to rely on others to do it for them. They don't like asking for help, even when they need it and can easily overwhelm themselves with too much to do if not careful. They can be resourceful, results-oriented, creative and they value diversity and challenges.
A Millennial has a completely different set of work ethics. To say they have none is just, well, not true! Millennials value recognition. When a Gen Xer might shrug off a certificate or trophy as no big deal, a Millennial 'needs' to be acknowledged and praised. If they are not being encouraged, they do not feel supported. If they are made to feel like they are making a difference, then they will make a difference. Although they can be a bit needy in the workplace wanting feedback and reassurance, mentoring and to be appreciated they can also be strategic and usually know what to ask for, such as training or resources, to be successful.
Zoomers, or Gen Z is different yet. They are pretty new to the full-time job market, but we still know quite a bit about how they work. They need structure. They will expect their employers to be transparent and will want to know how it's done and why. They are very cause oriented and want to know how their impact is connected to the bigger picture. They need constant feedback, good and bad, to better understand what their responsibilities are and they usually won't take it personally. They require flexibility both in time and their environment, thrive on diversity and need to be passionate about what they are doing to have any attention span at all.
Bridging the Gap
So now that we know the basics of what may be typical for 'most' of the individuals of each generation that make up a majority of our workforce today, how do we bring them together to work cohesively?
The best way that I've discovered to bridge this gap is through mutual education and understanding. Much like my blog on 'When Cultures Collide' it's important to bring awareness to our staff of the uniqueness of our individual personalities. We need to learn to accept that we are all different. We need to include the traits of each generation when considering the best training programs or styles of leadership. Utilize the knowledge of these differences in our communication and build on the diversity and opportunities that these different types of individuals can offer.
We all have different ways of learning and working to our potential and if we can harness those differences in an open environment where sharing, contributing and cooperation can exist peacefully, we can begin to bridge that gap and create success for everyone involved.
Morals of the story:
A generation is defined by the dates of significant historical events and social trends of a specific era and region.
Each generation has characteristics that are more common in the majority of that generation than in other generations.
Understanding the traits of each generation can help us to utilize our workforce resources more efficiently.
Bridging the gap between generations requires the same Awareness, Acceptance, Inclusion and Engagement as bridging cultural gaps.
Business News Daily - https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15974-millennials-in-the-workplace.html