Multiple Generations in the Workplace

If you read my post on the Education Revolution, you will remember my question “Do students (of any age) prefer one form of media more than another for learning? Do we need e-Learning for children and chalkboards for Boomers?” My answer was “of course not!”

There has been more and more information shared about the multiple generations in the workplace and the need to treat each generational cohort differently. For example, the American Management Association (N.D.) says “Each group has its own distinct characteristics, values, and attitudes toward work, based on its generation’s life experiences. To successfully integrate these diverse generations into the workplace, companies will need to embrace radical changes in recruitment, benefits, and creating a corporate culture that actively demonstrates respect and inclusion for its multigenerational work force.” Do we really need to treat Millennials different than Boomers? Of course not! I’ll explain why in a moment. But first…

I am currently working my way through a business boot-camp provided by the Leeds Grenville Small Business Enterprise Center (LGSBEC). After a little more than a year of running my own business, I needed something to motivate me to get my business plan done and the LGSBEC has met that need! There were four days of face-to-face instruction provided by Karen McDonald of the Opportunity Group to walk my group of nine entrepreneurs through the ins and outs of business plan writing. Six of the nine will be awarded a grant to kick start their business. What a great program!

One of the entrepreneurs, Holly, had a daycare disruption in week two and had to bring her four-month old daughter Jillian to class with her. That’s Holly, Jillian and Karen looking at cash flows in the picture above. I believe that baby Jillian was pointing out an error with the formula that carried the cumulative cash-flow from the previous period into the worksheet for year two.

I have to say, Jillian is the BEST baby! Very quiet and happy. We hardly knew she was there. So, where am I going with this? These three got me thinking about the generational noise again. Recall that the AMA said “Each group has its own distinct characteristics, values, and attitudes toward work, based on its generation’s life experiences.” Let’s consider THAT.

First, we have to define what a generation is. The Center for Generational Kinesthetics uses this definition: A generation is a group of people born around the same time and raised around the same place. People in this “birth cohort” exhibit similar characteristics, preferences, and values over their lifetimes.”

There are reams of studies that have defined those “similar characteristics, preferences,” etc. The ones I use for arguments sake were published by (2005) Greg Hammill and adapted for use here to show a summary of personal, lifestyle and workplace characteristics by generational cohort.  Hopefully they aren’t too hard to read for you folks in the Veterans Generation. :-O

Gen1

Gen2.png

Did you take a moment to look at the charts? Do it! Look at “your generation” and see if you agree with the characteristics assigned to you. Do you agree? Are you 100% aligned? 80%? Do you feel like maybe you were born in the wrong era? (If you are having trouble reading these tables, right click and open the image in a new tab and you can zoom in to increase the font size).

We should also be aware that generational differences in attitudes toward the balance between work and other parts of life such as family may vary to some degree by gender. The charts above don’t take THAT into account.

And there’s the rub! There are glaring weaknesses in the generational research, especially with respect to the understanding of generational differences among people in the blue collar and service industry work forces, and with regard to people of lower socioeconomic status. That’s a lot of variables that keep me wondering about the validity of these categorizations of people by age.

Weiss (2003) notes that most attitudes and distinguishing characteristics attributed to the generations are identified during childhood and adolescence, but these characteristics may undergo adjustment as people experience life stage changes such as marriage, childbearing, and challenges of adulthood.

Hmmm, so as people age and experience “things,” they change? That seems pretty radical. Is it possible that all the Boomers didn’t always see work as an exciting adventure for their entire work lives?

Wellner (2003) acknowledges as well, that demographic projections are fallible since they are assumptions based on past behavior, and future behavior may or may not follow the same patterns. More concerns about validity. If you judged me on my past behaviour as a 20 year old in the Navy, you would never have predicted that I would be sitting here writing this! Maybe we do change…

The Center for Creative Leadership says, despite what is seen on television, heard on radio, and written in newspapers, magazine, books, the differences between generations are not as stark as we have been led to believe.

Here’s my favourite. Jennifer Deal, author of Retiring the Generation Gap (2008), argues that we all want essentially the same things at work. [My emphasis] Her assertion is based on seven years of research in which she surveyed more than 3,000 corporate leaders. Deal says that the conflicts have to do with influence and power—who has it and who wants it. And in some ways, the negative stereotypes about each generation are the byproducts of defense mechanisms used by the competing age groups.

So – it is definitely not recommended to make assumptions in the workplace OR in the training environment about any one individual based upon his/her membership in a chronological generational cohort or gender, age, learning style, personality characteristics or other factors.

Well then – what DO we do? Marcia Zidle provides a list of ten principles to “help you look past the stereotypes and become a more effective leader to people of all ages.

  1. All generations have similar values. In fact, they all value family, the most. They also attach importance to integrity, achievement, love and competence.
  2. Everyone wants respect – they just define it in the same way.
  3. Trust matters especially with the people you work directly with. Everyone wants to trust and want to be trusted.
  4. People of all generations want leaders who are credible and trustworthy. They also want them to listen well and be farsighted and encouraging.
  5. Office politics is an issue – no matter what your age. Most realize that political skills are a critical component in being able to move up and be effective.
  6. No one really likes change. Resistance to change has nothing to do with age; it is all about how much one has to gain or lose with the change.
  7. Loyalty depends on the context not on the generation. People stay or leave a company based on their boss, opportunities, stage of life and other factors.
  8. It’s as easy to retain a young person as it is to retain an older one. It depends on what’s important to them. Age defines a demographic not a person.
  9. People of all generations want to make sure they have the skills and resources necessary to do their jobs well. The ability and desire to learn continues throughout life.
  10. Everyone wants to know how they’re doing. Feedback is desired but no one likes only negative feedback; they also want positive as well.” THAT relates back to my last post!

Did you identify more strongly with Zidle’s ten principles or Hammill’s generational characteristics? To circle back to the boot-camp, which is what got me all fired up… There were five, probably six generations in the room with little Jillian. We all shared the entrepreneurial spirit, a common goal, clear and caring leadership from Karen and from what I could see, age was never a factor, except we all wanted to hold the baby!

In summary, you will get better results by (1) applying effective leadership and (2) creating a high performing work environment than you will by labeling people in your workforce by age, gender, personality or favourite colour!

If you liked the article, please feel free to share and/or leave a comment! Although WordPress gives some great stats on how many have visited… it only gives a number and a country. I’d love to hear from you!

References

American Management Association. (N.D.). Leading the Four Generations at Work [web log]. Retrieved from: http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/leading-the-four-generations-at-work.aspx

Deal, J. (2008). Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young & Old Can Find Common Ground. Personnel Psychology, 61(1), 202-205.

Hammill, G. (2005) Mixing and Managing four generations of employees. FDU Magazine. [online, Winter/Spring 2005].

Weiss, M.J. (2003). To be about to be. American Demographics, 25(7), 29-36.

Wellner, A. S. (2003). The next 25 years. American Demographics, 25(3), 24-29.

Zidle, M. (2013) Working with different generations. [web log]. Retrieved from: https://managementhelp.org/blogs/supervision/2013/08/22/working-with-different-generations/

Advertisements