A Huge Elephant in the Workplace – 4 Different Generations

Today communication at, work is more complicated than ever, and one of the main reasons for increased difficulty is the four different generations which now inhabit the workplace. For the first time, the workplace is dominated by more diverse age differences than before. The generations include:

  • Traditionalist: born 1900-1945 – ages 64-109
  • Baby boomers born 1946-1964 – ages 45-63
  • Gen X : born 1965-1981 – ages 28-44
  • Millenials (Gen Y_ born 1982-2000 – ages 9-27

With the recent economic downturn, many boomers have decided to put off retirement and other boomers and traditionalists have had to return to work to supplement diminished retirement accounts. Organizations have always been filled with individuals with differing values, ideas, and ways to communication, so why is this a big issue now?

When you think of the generational times in which each of these groups grew up, think of the different values underlying the behaviors of these diverse generations and how the values were formed. The traditionalist grew up in a time when older workers supervised younger workers. There was a respect for authority and loyalty to the workplace and the traditionalist saw work as an obligation.

On the other hand, the baby boomers love to have meetings, are team players, and tend to be workaholics. They grew up in a time of social unrest and have learned to question authority. Boomers tend to work to live, and work for personal fulfillment.

When the Gen Xers came along, they had experienced their parent’s workaholism, and how they were downsized and decided to look for more ways to balance their work and home life. One of the first generation of latchkey kids due to both parents working; they were left to their own devices and learned how to figure things out. For this reason, they hate being micromanaged.

Finally, the Gen Y’s see work as a means to an end. They were the generation where everyone received a trophy so they expect things now and do not want to wait for anything. They also value meaningful work and are used to getting things with the push of a button.

Not only do these values cause issues, but also the way the different generations communicate can be a problem.

When communicating with a Traditionalist, they prefer formal communication and would prefer receiving a memo.

The boomer would rather speak in person, whereas the Gen X’s would prefer direct, immediate communication.

Our technology whiz kids, the Gen Y’s however prefer email or texting as their most desired form of communication.

Recently during a seminar by Beth Henry of Generation Works, she told of a traditionalist in the workplace who was so put out by the “rude young people who never speak and just walk side by side texting.”

When the young people were made aware of the feelings the older worker had for the last year they were shocked and very unaware of an issues. They also said they would stop behaving in that manner, when addressing the older employee.

The key to creating a workplace where all employees respect one another is through understanding and communication. Some keys to communicating across the generations include:

  • Educate your workers on the differences. Learn how to meet your needs while meeting the needs of the other person.
  • Be open and honest. Find a way to let an individual know how you prefer to receive communication.
  • Be aware – Take note of how an employee communicates to you. If they use email, use it for them, and if you are not sure ask the person.
  • Be creative – Use multiple means of communication to both reinforce and respect the other party.

A little patience and understanding can help workers to benefit from the diversity of the workplace. As stated by Beth Henry of Generation Works,

“When you understand a generation’s traits and values, you can speak the generational language of each…with a message unique for them.”

Beth Henry

Author: Beth Sears

Workplace Communication, Inc is a culmination of over 30 years in the work world offering organizations multi-faceted approach to communication problems. Since 1985, Beth has been helping individuals and organizations to improve their organizational and interpersonal performance through improved communication, understanding and focus. She has taught for Cornell ILR for the past 18 years on a variety of human behavior topics and specializes in consulting, training, coaching and facilitation. She loves helping organizations to create a culture where people are engaged and feel acknowledged and understand how they fit in the overall goals of the organization. She also enjoys working with leaders to help them to dramatically improve their ability to communicate and develop relationships that work!

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