- “She has a poor work ethic”
- “He does not respect experience”
- “I can’t believe the way they dress!”
- “What do you mean I can’t work from home on Fridays?!?”
- “Who cares that we have always done it that way, with technology we can do it better this way”
All of these statements are examples of generational differences in the workplace.
For the first time in history, we have 4 different generations in our workforce working alongside one another:
- Traditionalists (those born 1925 to 1945); roughly 7% of the Canadian workforce
- Baby Boomers (those born 1946 to 1964); roughly 46% of the Canadian workforce
- Generation X (those born 1965 to 1980); roughly 23% of the Canadian workforce
- Millennials/Gen Y (those born 1981 to 1995); roughly 24% of the Canadian workforce
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a survey and asked “To what extent is intergenerational conflict an issue in your workplace?”. An overwhelming 72% of respondents selected “to a large degree”. The results of the survey revealed a correlation between low employee engagement and generational diversity if the situation is not properly managed.
So, what can we do to manage the situation effectively?
Understanding Every Perspective
Each of these four generations has been impacted by events that shaped who they are and how they view the workplace. These events include World War II, September 11th and its aftermath, new trends in popular music and culture, ground breaking developments in technology, and changes in social values, as well as the style of parenting practiced by the generation who raised them.
Differences Between the Generations:
This table identifies key differences between the four generations:
66 to 86 years old
47 to 65 years old
31 to 46 years old
16 to 30 years old
|Traits||ConservativeBelief in disciplineRespect for authorityLoyal
|IdealisticBreak the rules attitudeTime stressedPolitically correct||PragmaticSelf-sufficientSkepticalFlexible
|Defining Events||Great depressionWorld War II||Vietnam WarWoodstockWatergate||Missing childrenLatch Key KidsComputers in school||School Shootings
|To Them Work is….||“If you want a roof and food….”||An exciting adventure||A difficult challenge||An opportunity to make a difference|
|Work Ethic||Loyal/dedicated||Driven||Balanced but stressed||Eager but anxious to advance|
|Employment Goals||Retirement||Second career||Work/life balance||Often unrealistic within expected timeline|
|Education||A dream||A birthright||A way to get to ahead||A given|
|Communication||Face to face||Telephone||IM/Text messaging|
|Time at Work is defined by||Punching the clock||Visibility||“Why does it matter if I get it done today?”||“Is it 5 PM? I have a life.”|
|Need most in the workplace||Continued involvement past 65. “I want to stay involved”||Recognition! ‘Stop ignoring me!’||More information “Nobody tells me anything!”||Praise and fun; or is that fun and praise?|
|Image of Workplace Success||Gold watch on retirement||Making it to the height of their potential||Not being overlooked for the ‘leaders of tomorrow’ behind them||The job of their dreams not just a good job|
|Workplace Habit Employer’s Love||Possess the most intellectual capital and institutional knowledge||Workaholics||Initiative and independence||Look for new challenges and opportunities to create efficiencies|
|Habit that May Annoy Other Generations||Very little feedback given or expected||More hours at the office equals better performance||Prefer to work alone||Challenge the status quo|
The differences across the generations can be a source of tension amongst employees and between employees and employers. The causes and effects of social influence and workplace perspective is endless. Moreover the gap in perception and workplace needs from Traditionalists to Millennials is vast.
Traditionalists created our current corporate structure and organizational dynamics. They entered the workplace when the economy was booming and saw first-hand how hard work led to advancement. They were followed by Baby Boomers, who despite entering the workforce in a time of growth were forced to came to work before the boss and stay after in order to stand out from the crowd given their large cohort. The next generation, Generation X, was a cohort stuck behind a much larger group and often stalled from advancement as the jobs were filled by those who entered the workplace a few years ahead of them. They were then forced to watch as employers invested money in programs to advance the generation behind them. Last came the Millenials, a group who have been told since they were young that the world is theirs for the taking as everyone will be retiring when they enter the workforce. They are now struggling with delayed departure issues as a result of global finances.
These perceptions affect employers and their policies, and consequently every individual in the workplace. To ease the tension between the groups, employers should create workplace policies that are more inclusive of the needs and perspectives of all employees.
Traditionalists want to continue to contribute to the workplace while shifting into retirement, Baby Boomers want to work less and enjoy their remaining years at the office, Generation Xer’s want work/life balance, and Millenials want work schedules that help them build careers and families at the same time. A flexible workplace organized based on deliverables and requirements can be the answer to every employee’s need.
Flexibility is the Key
Organizations have the choice between maintaining current practices tailored to the older generations or revamping the workplace in ways that initially appear counterproductive. Policies should be written to enhance the work experience for the vast majority of employees who are hardworking instead of protecting employers against the small percentage who are not. This is an important and necessary shift in the workplace culture of the future. Those employees who are not performing will need to be managed in a style appropriate to each unique circumstance not by employers referring to a blanket policy.
A cultural shift is required – one that moves away from an emphasis on presence in the workplace as the example of excellence. The emphasis should instead be placed on deliverables produced by the employee rather than the amount of time the employee spends in the workplace. Employers need to motivate employees through discussions on what needs to be accomplished and hold them accountable to deliver results. Giving employees the flexibility to manage their lives when needed can pay huge dividends in productivity.
A pendulum shift towards balancing the needs of the employer and the employee is key towards managing generational needs and engaging a modern workforce. Workshifting, telecommuting, flexible work arrangements, and home offices are all great examples of how flexibility can be added to workplace policies. These programs also work to accommodate all of the generations by tailoring policies towards the human needs of employees versus only the output needs of employers.
Generational differences can be viewed as a source of tension in the workplace or the catalyst to transform our current workplace culture into a more hospitable environment. Employers can leverage this opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition by embracing the early demands for change. Although, these changes may seem like a paradigm-shift to traditional employers the rewards for these alterations will be reaped through enhanced productivity, employee retention and talent acquisition.
To be published in September, 2011 UpDate Magazine http://www.hrpaottawa.ca
- Companies Break the “Gen Y Code” and Achieve Professional Presence across the Generations, According to Employee Development Systems, Inc. (prweb.com)
- Managing Millenials: Bringing the Zha Zha Zhu to Staff Meetings (holdingontothefloor.wordpress.com)
- Ruben Navarrette Insults the Millennial Generation On CNN.com (millenniallemons.com)
- Three generations under one roof (davidcravit.wordpress.com)
- Why Your Workplace Is Like Your Second Family (blogs.wsj.com)
- Diversity = Productivity Redux (advertisingtobabyboomers.blogspot.com)
- Money, Media, Marriage and Millennials…What is the Next Generation of Influencers Thinking? (prnewswire.com)
- Coveted Crib: A Multigenerational Mountain Retreat (casasugar.com)
- Managing Different Generations Requires Different Techniques (thinkup.waldenu.edu)
- Millenials and the social (net)workplace (melcrumblog.com)
- Millenials and the Alternative Workplace: The Future of the Commercial Real Estate Industry (naiopmablog.org)
- The Smart Worker : relies on a trusted network of friends and colleagues (janeknight.typepad.com)
- When Grads Go Good: Millennials And Socially Responsible Careers (ypulse.com)
- Stephen Colbert Ridicules Ted Nugent’s Recent Newspaper Column Attacking ‘Millenial’s Apathy’ (mediaite.com)
- Are you part of the Living Workplace transformation? (blogs.skype.com)