People have been talking about generations in the workplace for quite some time. And while not all interactions with coworkers are influenced by generational differences, they often play a role in the outcome of interactions.
Taking generational differences into account can help guide your workplace interactions.
Currently there are four distinct generations in the workplace: Traditionalists (1922-1945); Baby Boomers (1946-1964); Generation Xers (1965-1980); and Millennials (1981-1994). Generation Z (1995+) is comprised of mostly students, but the oldest of the Z’s will soon will be entering the workforce.
Traditionalists are the oldest members of the workforce. They have the most work experience, giving them applied knowledge and, often, authority. This generation values dedication, loyalty and conformity. Traditionalists believe you need to work hard in order to achieve, and prefer a more formal working environment and communication style, such as written memos. They are sometimes perceived as authoritative and unwilling to accept new ideas or change. This generation can be empowered as mentors for younger generations.
Baby Boomers are seen as workaholics and it is not uncommon for them to put in a 50- or 60-hour work week. The motto of this generation is ‘live to work.’ Baby Boomers excel in teams and make decisions through consensus. When working with Boomers, communicate in person and give them your full attention. Boomers are comfortable with phone calls and emails, but the value of hand-written notes isn’t lost on this generation.
Generation Xers, unlike their parents, have a motto of ‘work to live.’ They don’t believe that putting in more hours is necessarily the way to get ahead in their careers. They feel that things can be done efficiently and can be completed in a 40-hour work week. Members in this generation are self-reliant, unimpressed with authority, and prefer to find their own ways of doing things. Generation Xers like clear goals and objectives, but often will give people the freedom to determine the most effective ways to achieve them. Young people in Generation X tend to prefer using email and phone calls for communication.
Millennials (or Generation Y) are often tagged as having a false sense of entitlement. They are intellectually curious and confident. Millennials have grown-up socially integrated with adults since a young age and have had peer-to-peer relationships with all age levels. Because they’ve been involved in so many activities at such a young age, they are great at multitasking and can efficiently handle multiple projects at once. Members of Generation Y like to “work smarter, not harder,” are tech-savvy and desire more immediate feedback and rewards.
Most of the youngest members of Generation Z have not entered the workforce yet, but it is important to understand how they differ from older generations. They are the first generation to have grown up completely connected with the Internet. Technology is part of their everyday life, and this can sometimes lead them to be viewed as less personable and as distracted, poor listeners.
Bridging the Gap
Understanding the differences among the generations and what has shaped them is the first step toward building an effective team and organization. When working in multi-generational teams keep in mind:
- All employees must be held accountable for the same standards
- Be aware of the differences
- Be careful not to stereotype; it is unlikely that a person will embody all of the characteristics of his/her particular generation
- Appreciate the strengths: Knowing a person’s strengths can allow you to delegate and communicate most effectively to each team member
- Manage differences effectively
- Make an effort to interact with others outside of your generation: One suggestion is to develop cross-generational team building activities that are fun and purposeful
While there are definitely steps that can be taken to improve the workplace atmosphere in regard to generational differences, respect and understanding the differences can be very beneficial. To learn more about the impact of generational differences in the workplace, contact AgCareers.com at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: Erika Osmundson is marketing and communications manager for AgCareers.com, a leading supplier of human resource services to the agriculture, food, natural resources and biotechnology industries. AgCareers.com is part of the Farms.com family of companies and provided this article to PorkNetwork.