Differences between generations are nothing new. But today’s highly age-diverse workforce has changed the rules of who’s in charge and how people work together.
Consider this. At appraisal time, an older manager gives a younger employee a bonus for a well-done project. The employee’s reaction: confusion and dissatisfaction.
At the same time, a younger manager suggests that an older employee take some extra time off as a reward for doing a great job. The older worker is unimpressed, wondering why he worked so hard for a few days off, when what he really desires is financial compensation or some type of formal recognition.
Now everyone is confused.
Historic Changes in the Workforce Widen the Gap
For the first time in history there are four generations working side-by-side in the workplace. Managers and workers often experience far worse than a generation gap; it is more like a valley.
No longer are older managers in charge while younger employees do what they are told, no questions asked. All kinds of cross-functional relationships exist between employees of vastly different ages. The result is that generational differences in the workplace are now having an effect on recruiting, team building, motivating, managing, and maintaining and increasing employee productivity and satisfaction.
Simply the difference in how each generation prefers to communicate opens up an abundance of areas for miscommunication and dissatisfaction among managers and workers.
What are the four generations that could potentially be represented in any organization’s workforce?
- Veterans: born between 1922 and 1945
- Baby Boomers: born between 1946 and 1964
- Generation X: born between 1965 and 1980
- Generation Y/Millennials: born between 1981 and 2000
Every person has a unique personality and individual characteristics. But, some conclusions can be drawn about behaviors and preferences in the workplace based on the shared experiences of each generation. Understandably, Veterans and Baby Boomers prefer to communicate in vastly different ways than Millenials, who have been surrounded by technology their entire lives and are used to instant gratification and a constant barrage of information in small bursts.
Managers Need to Adjust Style to Accommodate Differences
How can managers of any age adjust their style to accommodate the differences among the generations?
- Be aware of the differences in work styles
- Adopt effective, targeted communication styles (e.g., Baby Boomers prefer in-person meetings, Millenials prefer e-mail and text)
- Identify the most effective performance feedback techniques
- Understand differences in expectations of work/life balance
- Recognize how different generations respond to conflict
Using these techniques, how could the managers in the situations described above have acted differently? In the first case, the manager may have given a monetary reward and recognition immediately when the project was completed, thereby providing more timely feedback to the younger worker. For the unsatisfied Boomer, a bonus or other formal recognition—such as a promotion—is probably a far better reward and motivator than taking a few days off.