It's that time of the year. Young people are reaching Commencement milestones and eagerly anticipating their next steps in the work world. Some marching to Pomp and Circumstance, others marching to the beat of their own drum. So, how does this new generation find a comfortable space amidst a multi-generational workforce? How do all the generations meld together successfully?
Today's workforce is no different than in years past. There has always been a distinction between younger and older cohorts in the workplace. Given a variety of reasons, today, more people are choosing to remain in their jobs rather than retire, and organizations find themselves with a healthy mix of Traditionalists, Boomers, Gen Xs and Gen Ys - the Millennials. Moreover, there is a fifth generation that will be joining the ranks in the next few years - Generation Z, as some are referring to young people approaching college age.
I like to think of today's modern workplace as Generations 2.0. With four generations working side-by-side, each with different communication styles, work habits and values - could be a recipe for chaos and conflict or an abundance of riches.
For sure, knowing some of the characteristics of each generation and looking for the positives are key elements to integrating the generations. If we can't recognize it, we can't improve it.
There are only three things that can impede progress - speed bumps, hurdles and roadblocks - understanding how to navigate potential Gen hurdles goes a long way towards a smoothly operating workplace.
Let's look at the three biggest Gen roadblocks organizations face and some thoughts on easing them.
1. Negative Images: Every generation has wittingly or unwittingly acquired some negative stereotypes. For every negative pigeonhole there is an accompanying positive.
- Traditionalists - Difficult to train, set in their ways. They are also dedicated, hard-working and respect authority.
- Boomers - Workaholics, driven. They are also loyal to the team and relationship-focused.
- Generation X - Concerned about work/life balance, no attachment to job or employer. They are also outcome-oriented, output focused and adaptable.
- Millennials - Tech-obsessed, little to no work ethic, entitled. They are also ambitious, achievement-oriented and entrepreneurial.
Whatever the generation, overcoming unfavorable images is difficult and requires individuals to be mindful of not letting these preconceived notions get in the way of demonstrating their talents and the work ethic it takes to achieve success.
From a leadership perspective, it can be helpful to proactively be aware of problems in your workplace that are rooted in generational misunderstandings and flawed conclusions. When you observe these issues, intervene and get them out in the open.
2. Communication Styles: See if you can guess which of the following adjectives belong to which Gen cohort - discreet, diplomatic, blunt/direct, polite. How about this one? Touch tone phones/call me anytime, cell phone/call me only at work, tweets/texting, one-on-one/write a memo. Bet you figured it out. Let's also not forget acronyms, colloquialisms and formality versus informality that tend to be associated with the generations.
All of the above have added to Gen stereotypes and confusion - a formula for workplace dysfunction. Allowing people to communicate in the manner they prefer is...well... the preferred route if you are going to encourage the generations in your workplace to feel comfortable and "heard". Workshops and webinars can be a big help.
3. Work Ethic: Ever-changing technologies and trends in how work is accomplished tend to create varying assumptions and expectations. This is especially true as we view the different generations' values and work ethics - all based on their unique life experiences.
Older employers might value success and equate it with sacrifice and number of hours spent at their desks, while for younger workers 60-hour weeks at their workplace isn't important - particularly, given the flexibility that technology offers.
While older workers value loyalty, younger workers have grown up seeing their parents lose their jobs, despite loyalty, so they seek out positions that promise a life outside of work.
In a related article to a huge Bentley University study of Millennials and their bosses, 23% of business decision-makers and 18% of corporate recruiters identified work ethic as crucial. But only 7% of high school students and 9% of college students did so. No doubt, there is a reality gap between the generations because each has a different set of goals and values. The good news is that a majority of Millennials in this study know they need to change to better fit the workplace.
Here's another interesting one..."Employers cite integrity as the most important soft skill, with 84% of business decision-makers and 78% of recruiters saying it's very important for success in the workplace."
Reaping the rewards that each generation offers includes permitting individuals to operate according to their own style, fulfilling everyone's need for recognition and feedback and acknowledging individual contributions. Leaders who travel this road will enhance the undeniable richness of generational diversity and provide the affirmation every human being needs to be their best. It's a win for everyone!
* I invite you to join my complimentary webinar exploring generational history and workplace strategies for bridging the generational gap to ensure a productive, efficient and harmonious workplace where everything clicks. Please contact me for more information.