Leadership and Four Generations in the Workplace

4 generations in workplace

Diversity is a hot topic for many corporations and something to pay attention to regardless of the size of your company. Great leadership means recognizing this fact and how to manage each group effectively.

Four Generations in the Workplace

You probably already know that this is the first time in history that there are four generations in the workplace. They think differently, lead differently, and have different values. Each generation has distinct attitudes, habits, behaviors, expectations, and motivations. Let’s define who the four generations are.

The Veterans: Born before 1946, they have a strong work ethic and a ‘get it done’ attitude. They tend to be respectful of authority and adhere to the rules.

Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964, baby boomers invented the 60-hour workweek. They are workaholics and competitive, sometimes to their own detriment. Quality is important to them and they tend not to take short cuts. They will question authority, but still respect the hierarchy of leadership.

Gen X: Born between 1965 and 1980, many Gen Xers grew up with both parents working and 40% of their parents were divorced and/or lost their jobs during the 80s and 90s. As a result, they are concerned about work/life balance and are fiercely protective of their personal time. Gen Xers value structure and directions, but do not have respect for title or rank that isn’t competent. They are skeptical and pragmatic.

Gen Y (also known as Millennials): Born beetween 1981 and 2000, Gen Yers are very entrepreneurial, technology savvy, and have never known a world without mobile devices and 24/7 connectivity. As a result, they feel connected to the world and cross oceans and land to see family and friends. Multi-tasking is second nature to them.

What does this mean?

The fact there are four generations in the workplace, each with different values and attitudes and needs can and often does create a challenge for the leadership. And the diversity of these four generations can add a wonderful spirit to a company. It’s about how we manage the people in these different generations, how we manage ourselves and our expectations about them, and how we effectively utilize them.

Diversity of generations can bring interesting dynamics to an organization, but also an opportunity for each generation to learn from each other and respect what each other has to offer. For example, the veterans and baby boomers have so much knowledge about business and the world in general. They have seen pronounced changes in the world over the last 50+ years and they bring this experience and knowledge to the workplace.

Gen Xers and Yers value balanced lives. They can be reminders to veterans and baby boomers about what is important in life and valuing work, but also family and friends and time for personal interests.

Each generation brings something positive and exciting to the workplace and each brings their own set of assumptions and beliefs that can interfere with the harmony,  if not managed well.

What’s the key?

There is no stock answer to ‘what’s the key?’, whether it’s how to manage these four generations effectively or how to utilize them well within the organization. I do have a few thoughts to consider that will help you make the right decisions as a leader.

  1. Remember each generation brings something valuable to the organization. When you are frustrated with the rigidity of the veterans, remember they also will be compliant with rules and processes. When the Gen Yers are texting during meetings, remember their understanding of technology can keep you connected to customers and others in ways you might not yet have imagined.
  2. Mix and match. One of the best ways to get the generations to talk to each other, work effectively together, and learn to respect each other is to mix them up. Put different generations together in a working group or team. Ask a Gen Xer to lead a project where one or more of the other generations are represented. Mix them up so they learn about each other and prejudices will disappear.
  3. Manage the culture. Don’t accept mistreatment of each other to be common place, even if that mistreatment is judgment or bias. Help them see what the other generations bring to the table and how they can help each other and learn from one another.
  4. Where are you on the generational timeline? This will affect your own view of the world and how you interface with the other generations as well. So watch for your own assumptions, prejudices and beliefs and how they impact the decisions you make.

Today’s workforce is not like any other we have ever experienced. As leaders, this can be a challenging and confusing time. There’s no template to follow nor is there an opportunity to learn from those who have come before you. You are experiencing it right along with everyone else. It’s part of your own journey. When you have challenges with staff, first look to see if part of the problem is a generational consideration. It doesn’t solve the problem knowing this, but it will give you a starting point from which to begin.

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