Leading and the Multigenerational Factor
If you’re in the workforce today you’ve probably experienced misunderstandings that occur due to people being of differing generations. You may not know or believe that misunderstandings can occur due to people being of different generations, but they do and it’s simply a fact of life. This simple fact is probably more important today than ever before and here’s why. For the first time in human history, we have four separate generations working together in society. Each generation has its own characteristics, strengths, likes and dislikes, and working style.
“The prospect of managing workgroups consisting of such a wide potential age range presents several challenges, but it also can yield significant opportunities. .… acknowledging generational differences offers companies access to a wider array of creative ideas and, perhaps more important, ensures that the firm’s talent pool is fully tapped.” - InformationWeek article by Katherine Spencer Lee (February 4th, 2006)
The four generations being mentioned here are the “Traditionalist” (born between 1900 and 1945), the “Baby Boomers” (born between 1946 and 1964), “Generation X” (born between 1965 and 1977), and “Generation Y” (born between 1978 and 2000).
Some Generational Traits for The Four Generations
One day, there was a manager of the Baby-Boomer generation named Bob who was waiting to meet with one of his subordinates in his office. He had what he perceived as great news. His sub-ordinate John, who was of Generation-Y, walked into Bob’s office and sat down. Bob asked John to close the door and once he did, Bob proceeded to tell him that he had great news. Bob told him that there was an opening for senior director position and that John was selected for the position. The only thing he had to do was move to one of the company’s other offices four states away. Now Bob knew that John was working towards becoming a Senior Director and now here was his chance. Upon hearing the news, John did not react the way Bob expected. John appeared flattered that he was being seen as senior director material by upper management. He also said he needed to think about the offer. This perplexed Bob because he was not able to understand John’s hesitation. After all, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. The next day, John came into Bob’s office and told him that he was not interested in taking the position. In addition, he said he was resigning in order to pursue other areas of interest. To say that Bob was surprised would be an understatement. Bob could not understand John’s reasoning here. In addition, one of the first things to come across Bob’s mind was that John did not have ambition or the drive to move up in the world and that would be a big hindrance n John’s career. Have you ever witnessed this type of scenario (or been involved yourself ) before? Is it that John is not driven to take advantages of the opportunities that present themselves?
For a Generation-Y person, balance in life is very important, as it is for many generations. The difference here is that for a Gen-Y person, balance means “Work is not ALL ; flexibility to balance ALL interest.”
Below are some traits specific to different generations. (Note: these are a generalization of the different traits seen for each generation. There will undoubtedly be individuals who do not fit the “mold” so to speak for the generation they are part of)
Understanding Multi-Generations (Avoiding Conflict)
Traditionalist, Baby-Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y have different views on things when it comes to career goals, rewards, balance and job feedback. Some of them can be quite opposite to each other which can lead to many of those multi-generational misunderstandings. As a leader, it’s always in the best interest of the group you’re leading, in what the group is attempting to accomplish, and in your effectiveness as a leader to understand how members of different generations view the world.
Views on Career Goals:
Traditionalists: Leaving a legacy.
Boomers: Having a Stellar Career.
Gen-Xers: Having a Portable Career.
Gen-Yers: Having a Parallel Career.
Views on Rewards:
Traditionalists: A job that is well done.
Boomers: Bonus or a Cash award. Promotion, recognition, the corner office
Gen-Xers: Freedom; Giving them a day off.
Gen-Yers: Having work that is meaningful.
Views on Retirement:
Traditionalists: Reward for so many years of loyal work.
Boomers: A time to retool.
Gen-Xers: A time to renew yourself.
Views on Changing Jobs:
Boomers: A regression or demotion.
Gen-Yers: Part of daily routine.
Views on Feedback:
Traditionalists: No news is good news.
Boomers: Once/year is more than enough.
Gen-Xers: “How am I doing?” is asked often; Give feedback when they ask for it.
Gen-Yers: As often as possible.
Probably the one interesting thing to remember here is that this multigenerational clash has virtually always existed. The Traditionalist generation had issues with their parent’s and grandparent’s generation. Generation-Y will be dealing with the next generation and their views and how different it may be from theirs. So the next time you find yourself saying, “Kids these days! What is the matter with them. Why don’t they <_fill in your gripe here_>? ” think about how you were with your parents and grandparents (be honest ). The next time you find yourself calling your boss as an old fogy, think about how they were brought up to see the world and make an effort to understand them. You may find yourself a little bit more patient with them.
Great Articles and Resources on the Generational Differences Discussion:
“Gen Y, Gen X and the Baby Boomers: Workplace Generation Wars” — by Steff Gelston (CIO.com)
“Generational Differences at Work” by Melissa Dittman. A psychologist studies ways to help traditionalists, baby boomers, gen Xers and millennials work better together, despite their generational differences.
“Managing Generational Differences in the Workplace” by Margaret Heffernan (Fast Company.com)
“Mixing and Managing Four Generations of Employees” — by Greg Hammill, director, intern and student programs, at FDU’s Silberman College of Business.
“Multigenerational Leadership Clout” — Phillip A. Tanzilo, MBA (Transformational Learning & Leadership)
“Social Media Tips for a Multi-Generational Workforce” by Jessica Simko
“The Leaders We Need Now” by Tamara J. Jackson (2010 Harvard Business Review)
“What You Need to Know About Mentoring the New Generations” by Devon Scheef and Diane Thiefoldt (2004 The Learning Cafe)
Some Great Podcasts and Videos:
“Generational View of Publishing” — Video on the future of publishing. It is an amazing piece.
“Millennial Generation” — Diane Thielfoldt of TheLearningCafe.net discusses the Millennial generation and the impact of generational differences in the workplace