What You Didn't Know About Your Colleagues
The workplace has certainly changed. You could be working with (and managing) up to four different generations in one office! The youngest of the four generations, the Millennials, are just graduating from college now. A cross-generational study in 2008 showed that the average college student has a higher self-esteem than 71% of his or her peers in the 1970s . These students are also more anxious than 85% of their predecessors . Last but not least, most college students today believe that getting a job or being promoted has more to do with “being in the right place at the right time,” as opposed to just working hard .
However, this mentality is unique to Millenials. Researchers compared data collected at the same point in the lives of four generations to show how behavior and mentalities of people in their 20s changed with each of these generations. Why is this of interest? Because it is the first time in history that four generations with different expectations and work styles meet in the workplace ; Traditionals (born 1925-1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Gen Xers (born 1965-1977) and Millennials (born 1978-1989) have to find the common ground that serves both their individual needs as well as the wellbeing of the organizations they work for.
Key traits of the four generations are:
Traditionals. This generation appreciates discipline, hard work and self-denial. They have been brought up with the mentality of being seen but unheard and this is why they are not likely to “rock the boat” in the workplace. They have money to spend and like to help others.
Baby Boomers: This generation has been seeking autonomy and self-sufficiency above all. Baby Boomers are seen as materialistic but also optimistic and idealistic. As many are overachievers, they struggle with work-life balance. They enjoy outdoors but are also avid readers.
Gen X. This generation prefers free agency to loyal corporatism, as many witnessed their parents being laid off from companies they had been loyal to. They seek financial and emotional security, want to be valued immediately for their skills and are known as heavy job hoppers.
Millennials. In the US they are the most ethnically diverse, self-inventive, and individualistic generation. They volunteer the most of all age groups, and actually look for jobs where they can be “professional volunteers” (to only work out of passion). They get bored easily and change jobs if not assigned with challenging tasks.
While none of values and working styles of these generations is wrong, having them work together might be challenging. Imagine for instance a) a hard working and conformist traditional, b) a Baby Boomer motivated by personal growth and recognition, c) a Gen X-er who values career flexibility and d) a Millennial who cherishes work-life balance and technology, working together on a team-project that involves tight deadlines and full commitment.
Think about a public relations team working in a large company, such as an electricity provider. The PR manager, a career-focused Baby-Boomer, wants to get her team to throw an event in the shortest time possible and with best results, so as to use this accomplishment when asking for a raise. However, the team she is coordinating has different agendas: the Traditionalist member of the team knows that he will retire in two months, so there is no need for him to outperform. The Gen X-er wants to do a good job but he will not go out of his way to come up with an innovative strategy for tackling this assignment. The youngest member of the team, a Millennial, wants to give it his best shot because he is genuinely excited about the project, he knows he could use his technical skills to tackle the problem better and faster than previously (and not have to work overtime), and he also wants to impress his boss, since this is his first month in the job. To that end he suggests the team that they use the company’s IT capabilities to their highest capacity to finish the job fast and well. The Traditionalist employee might be adverse to investing time in trying new technologies he will not continue to use. The Gen X-er is willing to give it a try but if it is a big stretch, he will support the previously-used techniques. On the other hand, the Baby Boomer manager wants to make sure that there is a good dynamic in the team, so she is neither supporting nor banning the intensive use of technology. Therefore, how can the manager insure that the Millennial’s enthusiasm does not go to waste, and also that the other members of the team do not resist, or worse, become resentful with the person who suggested that this ideas are more lucrative?
This is when management skills come into play. If the manager can assist employees in finding common ground, the four generations will bring a wider perspective of things than ever before. To this end, the manager should encourage:
- cross mentorship: elder employees could advise younger employees on the nuts and bolts of the company culture and policies, while the Millennials could help their peers catch up with viral marketing tools, on-line social networks, or other internet-based applications
- conflict resolution among the team members, instead of asking the manager to settle disagreements
- reward personal stretches (to accommodate others’ needs) in ways that are meaningful for each generation (e.g. allow Millennials to telecommute, or provide family health insurance plans as opposed to individual plans for Baby Boomers)
This can result in better performance, which is a key benefit for all the stakeholders involved.
Twenge, Jean, M., Campbell, Stacy, M. “Generational differences in psychological traits and their impact on the workplace.” Journal of Managerial Psychology. Vol. 23, No.8 (2008): 862-877. Web.