|Managing 4 Generations of Workers Requires Understanding and Appreciation of Differences|
|Written by George S. May Intl. Co/Sponsored Article|
|Thursday, 31 January 2008 01:00|
At one time family gatherings were the biggest challenge in managing the different generations – refereeing what to do when, hot dogs vs. steaks and who gets a Turkey leg. Today, however, business people are quickly finding that managing four very distinct generations – Veteran, Boomer, Gen X and Gen Y – in the workplace takes much more than simply putting more food on the table.
For the first time in American history four different generations are working side-by-side. This is The Perfect Storm-type of situation in people terms. Managing and motivating these generations means the one-style-fits-all approach to supervision is over.
If you don’t think the generational
gaps are dramatic, consider asking the different age groups about President
Kennedy. People from the Veteran Generation (experienced the World
War II era) may well remember that Richard Nixon was the Republican
presidential candidate against Kennedy. Boomers will likely focus
on Kennedy’s assassination, Gen Xers may focus on current Senator
Edward Kennedy and tell you he isn’t the president. Gen Y folks
may give you a quizzical look and ask, “Who’s Kennedy?”
If you are a business owner who’s been hiring people from various generations, you’ve likely already noticed what’s important to the various age groups. Now that different generations are onboard at many companies, management styles need to catch up.
The different frames of reference
each generation uses to understand today’s issues have become a major
managerial challenge. The differences among the generations are
some of the harder problems that a business owner faces
Hiding from inter-generational
management issues is no more of a solution than refusing to acknowledge
a problem a son or daughter may be experiencing. No one gets the
support or assistance needed if the issue is not acknowledged and responded
to. And support may mean different things to different generations.
For example, there are few managers that would deny a request for time
off to see a doctor. However, would a manager be as understanding
if a Gen Xer wanted time off to see a spiritual coach?
Who are these different generations? The breakout below shows generally accepted year groupings. While the specific years may vary somewhat and there will always be exceptions, the overall outlook of the people in that generation is consistent.
Having multiple generations with differing values working in the same location is becoming more common. And it will become much more common as businesses in general are impacted by several key demographic trends:
What do these demographic changes mean? For one thing, the different generations will be coming into contact with each more often and more forcefully than ever before. Take a simple example of the different ways that words are understood by different generations:
The statement “We need to get the report done” made by one Boomer to another Boomer means to them an order that must be accomplished now. The same statement directed by a Boomer to a Gen Xer is more likely viewed as an observation, rather than an order. The Gen Xer interprets the statement as: “The report needs to get done sometime.”
You might ask yourself how can words be misunderstood. Unfortunately, that’s what each of the four generations says to itself when one of the other three don’t “get it.”
How do we avoid such misunderstandings? How do we help make sure others really do “get it?”
Both parties in any communication are responsible for making sure the message is understood. This is when the old adage of “There is no dumb question” is very relevant. By appreciating the possibility that there could be misinterpretations, both parties feel more open to asking and answering questions to clarify the comments.
In addition to understanding
the English language in different ways; the attributes, styles and manners
of the four generations can be very different.
Work itself is viewed in different ways. To the Veteran Generation, it is an obligation that must be meet. To Boomers, it is an adventure that should be interesting and exciting with job changes expected. To Gen X, work is entrepreneurial, a personal challenge. To Gen Y, it is a participative workplace with other people like themselves doing fulfilling work as means to an end.
Business training can be impacted by generational differences. Consider how teaching methods in education have changed in more than 60 years. Yet people who were in school in the 1940s and people who are still attending high school or college today may be in the same training class at work. How does business make training relevant, interesting and understandable to such diverse audiences?
These differences and people’s expectations also influence the leadership styles used with them and by them. People in the Veteran’s Generation are very directive with a concern for command and control, plus a formal, centralized authority. The Boomers take a more collegial attitude, look for consensus and like to deal with people one-on-one. Gen Xers are direct, they challenge others and ask “why.” Generation Y is just now entering the work force, so it is too early to see all their natures, but based on what influenced them growing up, their preferred communications style will likely be through e-mail, voice mail and text messaging, with a desire for participative decision making.
What troubles might these differences cause?
Person-to-person differences – manager-to-employee and employee-to-employee relations – are likely to be the “first line of friction.” The generations need to appreciate the differences among them. While businesses are not designed to be psychology labs, there’s no denying that understanding what motivates specific people is important to getting a job done and making a business successful.
Bonuses and rewards can be
viewed differently. An older, senior level executive in a highly
centralized firm might be very pleased to provide a nice size bonus
to a Gen X employee at annual appraisal time. However the Gen
Xer, brought up on immediate gratification, asks why this money wasn’t
given months ago when the project was completed?
Work teams can run into conflict if generational differences aren’t considered. For example: Veteran Generation team members might want an appointed leader and formal agenda, meeting notes and reports. Boomers may likely work to build a consensus among the participants. Generation X wants teamwork but only during business hours; work is not their life. Gen Yers may want to do everything online, and will likely question the need to have a meeting.
Companies, like individuals,
can also have generational characteristics that create specific company
cultures. Knowing and acknowledging the type of cultural characteristics
a specific business has can save it time, effort and money by avoiding
hires that would not fit in. On the other hand, by defining the
type of culture or attitude a company may want to foster or develop
helps in hiring and training the right people.
With both employees and customers, business owners must be ready to experience more pronounced differences in attitudes and interests than ever before. Whatever the generational makeup of a business may be, the profitability of the business is improved when the generational differences are taken into account to create a more productive workforce.
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