Today's workplace can include as many as four generations of employees, from Veterans to Gen Yer's. Individuals from each generation tend to share common traits, such as their views on money, marriage and work, which have been shaped by world events and their cultural experiences. Understanding the worldview of employees from different generations can help you better connect with a diverse workforce and improve working relationships between employees.
"Managers must be able to morph and adapt to the multiple generational viewpoints, values and work styles," says Cheryl Cran, author of 101 Ways to Make Generations X, Y and Zoomers Happy at Work. "Managers want to recruit and retain highly talented people, and understanding the generations builds an extra awareness skill to be a 'master' leader or manager."
“Managers want to recruit and retain highly talented people, and understanding the generations builds an extra awareness skill to be a ‘master’ leader or manager.” — Cheryl Cran
A Breakdown of the Generations
Cran recommends that while learning about the different values of each generation, managers take note of when they make judgements on the values that do not match their our own, or label a value as right or wrong without understanding where it comes from. "This kind of difference in values is one cause of conflict and communication breakdown in the workplace," she says.
Veteran workers or Traditionalists are those who are in their late 60s and older, many of whom came of age during the Great Depression. People of this generation typically stay at the same company their entire careers, are loyal to their employers and expect the same loyalty in return. At work, they are on time and do as they are told because they respect their bosses.
Communication tip: Relationships are everything for this generation, so face–to–face communication is the best. They also value brevity, so when you are communicating with them, get to — and stick to — the point.
Baby Boomers were born following World War II. These are workers who are in their late 50s and 60s. The Boomers' survival instincts led to a philosophy of "work, work, work and then you die." When faced with the consequence of being fired, they will do what they are told because of their fear of not being able to pay the bills.
Communication tip: Otherwise known as the "Me" Generation, Boomers want to feel like you are talking directly to them. As with the previous generation, they appreciate then you get to the point, but they don't respond well to controlling language and will appreciate when you show flexibility and provide them with options.
In order to help employees better understand each other, managers can initiate dialogues about generational differences at team meetings.
Generation X, or Gen Xer's, are now in their late 30s to early 50s. A subset of this group — those born between 1975 and 1985 — are sometimes referred to as the "MTV Generation." The children of Baby Boomers, Gen Xer's saw their parents miserable in their jobs. They are driven by the desire to have a life above and beyond work or career. Their philosophy is have fun at work, make a buck and have a life.
Communication tip: Make Gen Xer's feel comfortable by using informal communication styles, like email, which is the best way to reach them. Keep messages brief and to the point, as this generation tends to have a short attention span.
Millennials or Generation Y, are in their early 20s to mid-30s. They are the first generation to grow up with high-speed Internet and they are action oriented. The most tolerant generation, Gen Y wants to work where they are allowed creative expression and a flexible approach to projects and their schedules. Since they know they will have as many as 10 careers in their lifetimes, Gen Yer's have little loyalty to their employers. They get bored very quickly and need more incentive to work than just a paycheck.
Communication tip: Plug into their constant motion by using verbs and action-oriented words, but don't talk down to them, or they will resent you. Since this group grew up online, they are comfortable with — even expect — communication to happen there.
In order to help employees better understand each other, managers can initiate dialogues about generational differences at team meetings or bring in a generations expert to facilitate training and team building sessions. "The key is to value all of the generational values and to share understanding of this among teams," Cran says.