Regardless of the year you were born, you have probably experienced generational differences in the workplace. Maybe you’re savvy with technology, and roll your eyes when a coworker doesn’t know how to send an e-mail. Or, perhaps you prefer communicating with colleagues directly, and are annoyed at those who are always plugged into some electronic device. The generation gap seems wider than ever. The truth is, each generation has its strengths, and businesses with different types of people working together are stronger. Of course, not everyone in a specific age group displays all the generalized characteristics of that generation, but understanding some of the basic demographics gives insight to how different work styles are beneficial.
With many employees waiting longer to retire, many traditionalists, born in the early twenties to early forties, are still in the workplace. These individuals are known for surviving the Great Depression, valuing teamwork, and following rules. They have a defined sense of right and wrong, respect authority, and have often stayed in the same career throughout their lifetime. Many from this generation prefer one-on-one conversation in person and over the phone.
Baby Boomers, born in the early forties to mid sixties, were raised during the Vietnam War and national social change. Most Baby Boomers value a strong work ethic, work well in teams, and respect workers and managers who have years of experience. They typically prefer direct communication in person or by phone, traditional methods of learning through presentations and handbooks, and prioritize work over personal lives.
Generation X, born between the mid sixties to late seventies, grew up during an era with higher divorce rates and more working mothers. Members of Generation X think a balance between work and personal life is important. They are independent and can be initially skeptical of new ideas, but adapt well. They respect coworkers and supervisors based on the skills they offer, not the hours they have worked.
Millennials, sometimes known as Generation Y, born between the early eighties and 2000, were brought up by involved parents and had active, busy schedules. They are used to being the center of attention, but do well collaborating with others. Millennials grew up surrounded by technology, which has influenced their perception of work and diversity. When working on projects, Millennials expect flexible hours and environments. They also work well with clear goals and detailed instructions and prefer interactive learning.
While it’s good to recognize that in general, different generations have different values, it’s more important to get to know each employee, coworker, and manager as an individual to learn what his or her unique strengths and work preferences are. If possible, create a workplace that accommodates a variety of work styles. For instance, utilize a variety of communication methods, welcoming both in-person conversations and e-mail correspondence, depending on individual preference. You can also encourage employees to learn from each other through mentoring programs or company feedback. More experienced employees could share wisdom with younger employees, who in return, could share ways to use technology.
The most important thing is to understand different perspectives and backgrounds. In doing this, your company will benefit from highlighting each person’s strengths. For more information, read this article on “Generational Change in the Workplace.”