Walk into an office today, and odds are, the employees vary in age from recent high school graduates to Baby Boomers to others ready for retirement. Indeed, different personalities, generational values and skill levels to manage simultaneously present a real-life concern for many workplaces.
But is each generation really all that different from the next? Stereotypical descriptions say yes, but at the end of the day, people ALL want to feel respected and heard, and that desire spans across all ages. However, there is likely a disconnect in how each generation perceives the demonstration of respect and acknowledgement. With succinct communication, these disagreements can be transformed into valuable teaching points and lessons in problem-solving, and or seeing another perspective with open mindedness.
Technology is likely the first and most obvious example of intergenerational differences. Boomer employees grew up with landlines and television sets. While members of subsequent generations have had their own iPads, and have forgone the traditional landline for some time now. With that large gap comes different familiarity – “digital natives” as they are called recognize technology as an extension of themselves. Stereotypically, “digital natives” never go anywhere without a smartphone, and post every waking moment of their lives on social media. Older generations prefer phone calls, emails, or even face-to-face meetings when it comes to communication styles, whereas a Millennial or Gen-Z might resort first to texting or even say, Twitter.
Generational perception differences also exist with regard to the value of time. Younger generations see work-life balance as a non-negotiable must-have. The desire for a life outside of work, as well as time for family and hobbies is integral as these employees were raised in households where both parents worked and in many instances had precious little time for family get togethers. Consequently, younger employees view work as vitally important in its own right, but so is reserving time for other activities outside of business.
Traditionally, Baby Boomers and members of Generation X have identified more strongly with their jobs, and considered themselves uncommitted for not investing heavily in career initiatives. In turn, Millennials likely disagree, and mandate that “as long as the job is done, and done proficiently, leaving at 5pm on the dot every day should not be problematic. Accordingly, work flexibility, which was once seen as an earned perk, something only working parents deserved, is now seen as an advantage to employees of all ages.
These are just two of the differences that can create underlying tension in an office. And, without addressing these differences, antagonism can fester and undermine a company’s progress. But, by addressing them and encouraging mutual acceptance among all employees, the workplace will benefit from that harmony, thereby providing opportunities for mutual teaching moments. Each generation brings a unique perspective to the work place, and each mindset has true value and merit. Therefore, there is no such thing as a one-size fits all approach when it comes to managing in today’s multi-generational environment. Management must be patient, open minded and most of all nimble enough to bring the dispositions and philosophies of all generations together to reach mutual goals.