Leading Different Generations

Thursday, January 1 2009

For the first time in history there are four generations in the workforce.

Traditionalist or Builders were born 1922-1945; Baby Boomers arrived from 1949-1964; Generation X from1965 – 1980; and Generation Y from 1980 – 2000. Each group is distinguished by their unique different experiences, expectations, and working styles.

A simple way to illustrate these differences is to listen to the responses each group gives to the question of where and when Kennedy died. Traditionalists and Boomers will probably say “shot in Dallas;” Gen X will remember a plane crash near Martha’s Vineyard; and Gen Y may ask “Who.”

This is probably the first time that all four generations are side-by-side in the workplace. The old rules are changing and it is often hard for certain generations to keep up with that change. Generational difference affects many areas of the workplace, including turnover, building teams, basic communication, misunderstandings, attracting employees, commitments, expectations, and maintaining or increasing productivity.

Leaders will find it valuable to understand the characteristics that make each group distinct.

Traditionalist Baby Boomers Gen X Gen Y
Core values Respect for authority
Extreme fun
Family Traditional Disintegrating Latch-key kids Merged Families
Education A dream A birthright A way to get there An incredible expense
Communication Rotary phones
Call me anytime
Cell phones
Call me only at work
Picture phones
Email, IM
Work Ethic Hard work
Respect Authority
Duty before fun
Adherence to rules
Work efficiently
Want structure and direction
Want structure
Eliminate the task
Work is… An obligation An exciting adventure A difficult challenge
A contact
A means to an end
Leadership Style Directive
Command & Control
Challenge others
Ask why
Everyone is the same To Be Determined
Interactive Style Individual
Expect others to work hard
Team Player
Love to have meetings
Solution oriented
Feedback & Rewards No news is good news Money
They will ask
Whatever I want at the moment
Meaningful work
Messages that Motivate Experience is respected Being valued
Being needed
Forget the rules
Working with other bright, creative people
Work & Family Work comes first
Work & family don’t mix
No balance
Work to live
Balance – quality of life Balance – quality of life
Adapted from information by Greg Hammill

As a leader you must appreciate that your thinking may be different from those you are leading. If you want to communicate effectively with each group it is important to understand and accept their basic values and characteristics. Communication should take generational differences into account. When a Baby Boomer says, “This report needs to be done” it probably means “do it now.” But a Gen X or Gen Y might believe the appropriate response is, “I will get around to it… but not necessarily now.”

It is not always easy to communicate effectively across generations, but change is inevitable as the workforce moves toward having 50% of workers from Gen Y. Consider the greater challenge that family-owned businesses will face, where four generations compete for leadership and recognition.

For leaders, the advantage of having all the styles in the workplace is that each generation brings different perspectives and different skill sets. The younger generation will think outside the box, and question current policies and procedures. The mature generations bring past experience. These all add strength to the organization.

Leaders are responsible for the process of combining the talents of the different generations. Get to know people and think about the qualities, which add to organizational success, that each brings to the table. Reflect upon your personal style and consider how you can make everyone feel valued.

Younger individuals, who have been promoted into leadership positions must think carefully about how to engage their more mature team members. How will they help those people feel valued, so that their knowledge can be shared and used? Many organizations, which are actively promoting younger leaders, face the challenge of ensuring that those mature individuals, who have helped to build the company, continue to feel valued.

Developing trust and building strong relationships are essential for leaders functioning in the intergenerational milieu. Coaching can be an effective tool to assist leaders to develop the skills and sensitivity to meet the needs of the multigenerational workforce. Embrace the generations and leverage their individual talents.