Our Canadian workplace has become a playing field of competing viewpoints and values as four generations — Silents, Baby Boomers, GenXers and Millenials — share the same workspace. We need to propel our multi-generational resources into complementary ideals of work life and workplace, with respect for our associates and from “whence” they came. Can you identify the generational cues that drive your team?
The work ethic of the Silent Generation (born1933 – 1945) is built on commitment, responsibility and conformity as tickets to success. As suffocated children of the Great Depression, they learned that, “children are to be seen and not heard.” On the job, they are consummate team players, not likely to “rock the boat,” break the rules or disrespect authority.
The arrival of the Baby Boom Generation (born 1946 – 1964) changed the physical and psychological landscape forever. The intense social and political upheaval of Vietnam, assassinations, women’s liberation and civil rights led them to rebel against conformity and to carve a perfectionist lifestyle based on personal values and spiritual growth. Rocked by years of reorganizing, reengineering and relentless change, they now long to stabilize their careers.
The often-maligned Generation X (born 1965 – 1976), grew up very quickly amid rising divorce rates, latchkeys, violence and low expectations. They entered the job market in the wake of the Boomers, only to be confronted with new terms like “downsizing” as the economy plunged into recession. It’s hardly surprising, then, that they tend to be skeptical toward authority and cautious in their commitments. Their self-reliance has led them, in unprecedented numbers, to embrace “free agency” over company loyalty. Ambitious and independent, they’re now striving to balance the competing demands of work, family and personal life.
The Millennials, (born 1977-1998) Net-Gen or Y Generation, were the once ubiquitous “babies on board,” who came of age during a shift toward virtue and values. They’re attracted to organizations whose missions speak to a purpose greater than a bottom line. They’re technologically savvy with a positive, can-do attitude that says: “I’m here to make a difference.” And they will.
A few tools and strategies for communicating across generations can better position us to tap the best that each brings to the workplace. Here are some suggestions:
It’s not what you say, but how you say it. Generational clashes often stem from miscommunications in tone or style. Some Silents, for example, may find that they are technologically challenged; empathy is a better strategy than derision. The younger generations, in general, might have shorter attention spans than their seniors, so they may prefer verbal training to reading documents.
Understand the different generational motives. GenXers may seem to be less driven, and Baby Boomers managing GenXers should know that money usually isn’t the motivating force. It’s quality of life. Managers should look for ways to support GenXers’ balanced lifestyle.
Look beyond appearances. When that cherubic Millenial suggests that a lovebug has corrupted your PDF files, you better listen. Likewise, when a Silent suggests you’re shooting yourself in the foot, realize that there may be memory and wisdom behind the advice.
Choose mentors wisely. Millenials launching careers should skip a generation when seeking guidance or nurturing. They’re not likely to find mentoring a priority among GenXers who often think of themselves as free agents looking for balance in their lives and time for themselves.
Keep an open mind about attitudes. Just because others don’t share your work ethic, it doesn’t mean they’re lazy. If GenXers seem like slackers to the Boomers and Silents, perhaps it’s because they’re mindful of how workaholism affected their own upbringing. They’ve seen the damaging effects of blind loyalty to an organization (many of their parents were laid off) and aren’t apt to fall victim themselves.
Traversing this generational landscape, bolstered by new learning and respect for differing ideals about the workplace, will get the job done better and faster. Look for what unites you with your peers. You’ll be better prepared to welcome the generation that comes next.