Leading 4 generations at work.
Companies are currently facing a serious problem, and it has nothing to do with downsizing, bullying, global competition, discrimination, stress or bribery. Instead, it is the problem of four generations working side by side in one workplace.
Working in a team with different ages, backgrounds and characteristics is pretty common in today’s workplace. Different generations have dissimilar expectations, needs and demands. It is vital for the manager to recognize those distinct characteristics among the four generations. Employers who don’t recognize these differences may lose their outstanding employees and find their workplaces lost in misunderstandings. The first and foremost step to create a peaceful workplace that optimizes employees’ unique knowledge is by learning who they are. Therefore, we did some research on the different generations that are still part of today’s workforce and will soon be. Here are their unique characteristics:
The veterans are considered as the most loyal employees. Their values were shaped by World War II, Great Depression and the post-war boom years, making them the most risk averse but highly dedicated employees. Most of them have served in the military or been married to someone who did. Therefore, rules are usually important and played by this generation. The veterans also tend to be very respectful to seniority and hierarchy. As they are typically independent and disciplined, when they are given an impossible task, they can get it done in some way. As high-quality standards mean a lot to this generation, making them extremely aware of others’ experience and qualification. Although they sacrifice their time at work, they do value their family over work. In short, Veterans find personal life more important than work, and are respectful to authority and hardworking.
Boomers, the most populous generation, grew up in a time of economic prosperity. They are the first generation that actively declare higher priority in work over personal life. Boomers are team players who set long-term goals. Most Boomers value a human touch rather than technology, so they prefer communicating through face-to-face instead of using technology, such as email or texting. They are competitive and optimistic, invented the 60-hours work week, and focus heavily on personal achievement. A recent AARP survey of 2,001 Boomers revealed that 63% plan to work at least part-time in their retirement, while 5% had never plan for retirement. To sum up, Baby Boomers are workaholics, they live to work.
Generation Xers are usually considered as the “lazybones” generation, placing emphasis on work-life balance and fiercely protection of their family time. Generation Xers are more independent than the prior generations, they develop their own skill sets and are comfortable with challenges. They prefer independence and ongoing feedbacks and suggestions, instead of step-by-step instructions. This generation foster traits of freedom, adaptability and flexibility.
Generation Yers are also known as Millennials. Generation Y is the first global-centric generation, who is wise in and heavily reliant on technology. With the technological advancement and the increase in educational programs during the 1990s, Generation Yers are also the most educated generation of workers nowadays. Among all generations mentioned, Generation Y is the most resilient in continuous and rapid changes. “Time Magazine” also revealed that Generation Y’s adaptability is remarkably high, they are ambitious and have strong entrepreneurial spirit who dared to try new things. To be concise, they are keen on entrepreneurship, and expect acknowledgment as well as respect in their workplace.
Those are the 4 generations that are currently part of our workforce. But the next generation is already leaving high school and will very soon be looking for their first jobs. So, what can we expect from generation Z?
Generation Z (born 1996 - 2010)
Generations Z are also known as Post-Millennials and they accounts nearly one-third of the world total population. Generation Z is a tech-savvy multicultural generation who is highly global, in both perspective and population, who loves to work in multiple countries. They are predominantly the children of Generation X and some of Generation Y. They have never known a world without technology and mobile devices, they see themselves very connected through the Internet. According to “The Daily Telegraph”, Generation Zers are keen at looking after their money and making a better world. Harry Wallop, journalist of “The Daily Telegraph”, stated that Generation Zers are safer, smarter, more mature and eager to change the world, when comparing with Generation Y. In short, this tech-savvy generation is smarter and more global than previous generations.
Have you heard of generation Alpha? A generation of which most of are not even born yet? However, very soon they will already influence the consumer market: Generation Alpha - the children of millennials.
Generation Alpha (born 2011 - 2025)
Generation Alphas are born into the world where there are constant interconnections with the Internet and mobile wireless technologies. Boundaries between humans and technology are becoming more blurred in this generation. “The Daily Mail” claimed that social media makes people feel less connected to others, resulting in a greater sense of isolation and a reduction in life happiness as well as satisfaction. They have to pay a high price from being social media savvy, which can make Generation Alpha the most socially isolated generation ever. Put in a nutshell, Generation Alphas might be occupied too much by social media, which may make them less social and outgoing than other generations.
Understanding the characteristics between generations can make it easier to look at workplace characteristics and how they manifest themselves in businesses. Generational differences can affect everything, including recruiting, building teams, dealing with change, managing, motivating, and increasing productivity. Here are some tips that managers can take into consideration to foster cross-generation collaboration in a workplace:
Continuous communication between supervisors and employees can allow teams to work towards the same goal. The way how to communicate is also significant. Therefore, when forming a team, manager should spend time knowing in what means team members wish to communicate. For instance, Veterans prefer communicating on a handwritten note and a direct means. The Boomers wish to have meetings anytime. Generation Xers are displeasure to hear projects outside their working time. And Generation Y mostly prefers to communicate through emails.
2. Encourage Opinion Expression
Expressing opinion or viewpoints sometimes can lead to conflicts. However, conflicts can create novel and innovative ideas, in other words, it helps foster collaboration among employees. Companies should take initiative to foster team-building opportunities, this helps employees notice each other’s working style and learn from others. The idea of introducing the process of expressing opinions and ideas among employees can lead to business development.
3. Multi-training Programs
It is important for companies to have a variety of training programs targeting different generations. For instance, involve a qualified speaker to conduct the training program for Veterans. Use traditional methods like “classroom style” for the Baby Boomers’ training. For Generation Xers, involve them deeply in workshops. Finally, provide acknowledgments to Generation Y during training programs.
4. Continuous Mentoring between Generations
Mentoring between different generations can encourage cross-generational interaction, and can improve their relationships. Younger employees should seek experience and knowledge from the seniors; while the senior employees should be open-minded to new and fresh ideas, as well as new technologies by younger employees.
With different generations in today’s workplace, companies can no longer adhere to traditional management and leadership styles. Companies should understand the differences between generations and be aware of the confusions that can be created in a company.