Over the past few years, I’ve had an incredible opportunity to work with leaders from all over the world. When asked to come up with a list of employee issues and challenges, the one topic that continues to be at the top of the list is working with Millennials. The challenge is both real and understandable from the perspective of all generations. As it happens, the climate within the workforce now consists of four unique generations; the Silent Gen, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y (Millennials) and soon to be Gen Z. Each generation is represented by a different set of norms, that causes friction and a lack of understanding with each other. Let’s first take a look at each generation more closely, and consider what can be done to strengthen understanding, connection and relationships within the team/organization.
The Silent Generation (Born between 1925 and 1946)
Influenced by the Great Depression, this generation is widely respected for their teamwork, strong communication and interpersonal skills. They are traditionalists and are responsible for paving the way for the workforce we know today. Among all the generations, they are considered to be some of the most loyal workers in history.
Baby Boomers (Born between 1946 and 1964)
Boomers were born right after World War II and make up 28% of the population. They experienced a lot in their day, from prosperity to war. They were influenced by many historical events, including Vietnam and the assassination of JFK, MLK and RFK. They were a resilient generation with a strong set of values; individual choice, community involvement, ownership of their home and working hard to earn prosperity.
Generation X (Born between 1965 and 1980)
Known as the latchkey kids, Gen X most likely grew up either with both parents working or with their parents divorced. Cell phones and the internet were introduced even though these technologies didn’t hit mainstream until their adult years. The world events they witnessed span from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the end of the Cold War. The mentality of this culture is “work hard, to play hard.” As a result, Gen X has experienced success in all areas of life; home ownership, family and business.
Generation Y or Millennials (Born after 1980)
The Millennials are different than the others. They are perceived as being entitled, blunt and brash, partly due to being willing to offer up their opinions freely. This generational culture is also heavily influenced by digital communications. They are tech-savvy and communicate across the various mediums of digital platforms. Historical events that shaped and molded them include; the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, the Gulf and Iraq Wars, Columbine High School mass shooting and the Great Recession.
Leading a multigenerational workforce represents a significant opportunity to embrace diversity. All of these factors influence our perceptions, behaviors, and interactions with others in the workplace.
So why can’t we all get along?
When there is a merge of cultures in a team, it’s natural for conflict to exist. Each generation has their own perspectives on experience, values, money, communication styles, dress, and decision-making. In addition to this lens, there are also underlying expectations from each generation on the number of hours worked, work-life balance, contributions, reward, recognition, learning and communication. Essentially, each generation has their own set of ideas of what success looks like and how to get there.
Cultivating a workplace where all generations can thrive is a necessity. This process begins by learning how to adapt to each other, finding ways that you can relate and improve connection. It is key when it comes to working together. There is tremendous power in collaboration when working with others that are different than! Below are a few tips to consider in taking the next step towards creating interest, connection and synergy among the generational cultures in the workplace.
Be Open Minded
Be open to accepting new perspectives and the potential of doing things differently. This is true of any major differences in the workplace. Whether it is age, gender, or any number of differences. Creating a culture that is open minded is a quality that is in high demand.
Acknowledge and Respect the Differences
A simple gesture of acknowledgement goes a long way. Just because they do things differently doesn’t mean their perspective does not add value nor deserve your respect.
It is very easy to speak to be understood rather than to understand. When trying to understand others and their perspectives; watch, listen and respond in a way that them.
Oftentimes, the first response is to pass judgment when a task is done differently than how you do it! Remember, even though you may feel your way is the best, there may be another great solution that could provide added benefit. You won’t know that unless we are willing to remain open to new ideas. One of the great things about working in a diverse environment is the fact that the workplace is full of originality and varying opinions.
Always give the benefit of the doubt! There may be times that you don’t get what or why they do things. As you begin to establish a relationship with them, your understanding of those “what’s” and “whys” will make sense. In the meantime, listen to learn and seek to understand.
The generational culture differences give teams the opportunity to grow and learn from each other. This further creates a greater level of engagement and collaboration. There is a lot to gain when you remain open to the potential of doing things differently.
The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example.