Multiple generations at work

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Genevieve Roberts

The workplace is full of various personalities, employees of diverse backgrounds and differing viewpoints.  No, I’m not speaking of ethnicity or national origin.  Rather, I’m referring to the dynamics of multiple generations at work today. 

Each generation brings with them a unique set of characteristics, expectations and experiences.  Therefore, it’s important for employers to acknowledge the generational differences, understand and respect them (not just tolerate them), in order to bridge the gaps and work together cohesively.

Who are the four generations at work?

1. Veterans (Born prior to 1945)- They are often seen as traditionalists, accepting of authority and comfortable with hierarchy.  Veterans like structure and often plan to stay with an employer indefinitely.

2. Boomers (Born 1945-1964)- Boomers tend to be results-oriented and loyal.  They, too, like Veterans, are accepting of authority; they put forth maximum effort.

3. Generation X (Born 1965-1980)- Gen “Xers,” at times referred to as the “me” generation, tend to embrace diversity, are fast learners, are seeking work/life balance and are technologically savvy.

4. Generation Y (Born 1981+)- Gen “Yers,” or Millenials, like Generation X, embrace diversity and are quick learners.  However, they may require closer supervision. They also seek a balance between home and work; informality tends to appeal to this group, too.

At times, you may see conflicts related to work ethic, change and organizational hierarchy, which often arise simply from miscommunication or misunderstandings.  So, what can you do as a leader, manager or supervisor to help your employees work together successfully?  Consider adapting your leadership style.  For instance, determine what motivates your employees.  Adapt your mentoring style or coaching skills according to your audience.  For Veterans, respect their experience and demonstrate understanding and care.  Appreciate the hard work and efforts of the Baby Boomer generation; involve them as well as challenge them.  Be honest with Generation X, give them challenging assignments, yet with pre-determined boundaries; give them opportunities for growth and development.  Mentor Generation Y, outline expectations clearly for them, and provide them with strong leadership. 

Despite generational differences, ultimately workers tend to hold shared values and wants.  In fact, the differences actually aren’t as wide as they may seem initially.  Regardless of age, most employees value family, respect, trustworthy leadership, learning opportunities and a safe work environment. 

Finally, there are some best practices to take into consideration while managing your diverse work force.  Consider implementing inter-generational mentoring.  With, an estimation of about 40 percent of the work force facing retirement in the next 10 years, knowledge transfer is critical to maximizing individual and organizational talent.  All generations appreciate timely and constructive feedback.  Demonstrate empathy to all employees.  Facilitate learning and offer career development opportunities.

It simply makes good business sense to build diverse teams and capitalize on unique skills sets and experiences.  While there are and always will be different generations at work, if employers value, understand and communicate differences, and learn to focus on commonalities, workers can be productive and successfully achieve common organizational goals together. 

Genevieve Roberts is managing principal at Titan Group LLC in Richmond. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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