Generation clash: Is having four generations in the workplace a liability or an asset?
This post originally appeared on Workopolis on Wednesday, December 21, 2011.
The workforce today has a unique dynamic—there are actually four distinct generations working together in most workplaces.
These groups are popularly referred to as the Mature generation (over the age of 65, also called silent, traditionalists or veterans), the Baby Boomers (aged 45-64), Generation X (aged 30-44), and Generation Y (aged 18-29, also called Millennials, and Echoes). Each group brings with it different priorities, values, and motivators. Stereotypes have led to harsh generational criticism – e.g. Boomers are rigid, Gen Ys are lazy, etc. Much advice is also being circulated today about how to bridge this generation gap.
In my experience as a recruiter however, I see a much greater opportunity to leverage this generation gap. In the same way that organizations want an optimal balance of employees with various learning styles so too should companies strive to optimize their workforce with a generational strategy and “ageless thinking.”
So let’s embrace “entitled” Gen Ys, “always wanting to break the rules” Gen Xs, “workaholic” Boomers, and “authority-loving” Matures. Let’s take inventory of our working habits, and let’s truly make the most of our workforce. Where to begin? Here are some thought-starters:
- Suspend judgment. Foster a culture that accepts other perspectives as valid to avoid misleading stereotypes.
- Find a balance between asking employees to adapt to the company, and ensuring the company adapts to employee needs.
- How do you reward employees? Can your company be flexible to the needs of each generation? For example, to acknowledge a job well done, Gen Xs may appreciate a day off (for greater work-life balance); Gen Ys may want additional responsibilities (to feel more engaged); Matures may appreciate more of an official recognition by way of an award.
- Experience versus new ideas – is your organization catering to both of these perspectives? The Matures and Boomers pride themselves in the experience they’ve amassed, while confident Gen Ys come to work bringing new ideas to the table.
- Is change scary for your employees, or do they see it as an improvement? While Gen Xs and Ys embrace change, Boomers and Matures may be more averse. This can give your company a good balance however, promoting calculated risks for growth
- How does your organization advocate for work-life balance or work-life integration? While Gen Xs are usually loyal to themselves first and crave balance between work and play, Gen Ys need intrinsic motivators, and are fluid in their work (beyond the office) often mixing texts, tweets and social environments with work.
- Ultimately, the older generations want to feel valued, while Gen Xs want a company to trust them with workplace autonomy. Inherently social Gen Ys want opportunities to work with fun, bright, creative people. While “socializing” in the past was considered detrimental to workplace performance, it’s become a pivotal performance-builder today.
So find solutions that work for your organization specifically, and run with them!