Image via Flickr by Philippines Outsourcing Corporation
Never before has such a wide range of ages inhabited the American workforce. Due to the recent recession and loss of retirement income, many older workers are putting off retirement and working into their later years. Because of this delay there are now typically employees from three generations in the workplace: Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials.
The different cultural events experienced by each of these generations have resulted in extremely different world views and expectations. Understanding these differences and the motivations that they have produced is essential to managing the conflict that is often created when employees from such vastly different generational perspectives are required to collaborate.
Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, were influenced by the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the explosion of television. Baby Boomers tend to value formality and structure and believe that respect should be earned. They want to be valued for their experience and knowledge and can be resistant to change.
Born between 1965 and 1979, Generation X was influenced by the decline of communism, the fall of the Berlin wall and the AIDS epidemic. They were the first real “latchkey kids” and often had to rely on themselves at a young age. They value independence and dislike micromanagement. They want to have the freedom to grow professionally, to be appreciated, and to be valued for their professionalism and hard work.
Millennials (Generation Y)
Born between 1980 and 2000, The Millennials (or Generation Y) are the future of the workplace. They were influenced by the 24 hour news cycle and access to constant and instantaneous information. They were also the generation in which every child who participated in an activity received a trophy, regardless of performance. In general, millennials want jobs that align with their personal values, need to be praised for their work, and want to be valued for their good ideas.
Bridging the Gap
Image via Flickr by carlosbezz
Because of these different expectations and values, tensions can arise when the three groups must work together. These types of conflicts can cause progress on important projects to come to a screeching halt.
The future of the workplace depends on managers learning to understand and adapt to the different needs of each group. Leaders can bring people together and increase harmony in the workplace by doing the following:
- Recognize the needs of the people in your organization. Ultimately, all employees want to be respected for their work. However, understanding that Millennials, Generation Xers and Baby Boomers need to be respected for different things will help you to tap into those things that motivate and encourage them.
- Keep performance expectations clear and consistent. This will provide older Baby Boomers and Millennials the structure and independence that they crave.
- Develop teams that are cross sections of each group. While this might be uncomfortable at first, it will allow everyone to learn from each other. Younger workers can be trained on how to interact appropriately in the corporate environment, while older workers can learn valuable technological skills and ways to do things more efficiently.
- Help everyone to feel invested in the overall mission of the company. Remind your team members that their work is making a difference and give them specifics regarding how. Tailor these specifics to the different motivators of each group. For example, Millennials will be excited to know that their innovative ideas solved challenging problems for the organization while the Gen Xers will be motivated by the fact that their incentive and drive increased the bottom line.
- Manage conflict quickly and effectively. Make sure there is a platform or process in which everyone can raise issues and resolve conflicts effectively. The faster differences of opinion are aired and dealt with, the less likely it is that resentments will build and fester.
Image via Flickr by Radaccion
Managers who can find ways to bring together these diverse groups and create an environment in which everyone is respected, appreciated, and understood will be rewarded with teams that work efficiently and productively together to produce innovative and effective solutions.
Rebecca Callahan is full time freelance writer who writes in a wide variety of genres and on an even wider variety of topics. She spends most of her free time avoiding manual labor by reading good books.