Have you heard a comment like this from Baby Boomers? “Can we get back to work now? These kids will either get with the program or they will leave. They always do”
What about a comment like this from one of your newer employees? “I don’t get it! My managers are barely technologically literate yet they’re never open to suggestions on how to improve a process with technology. What’s up with this attitude?”
If you are managing your department or your company you have been confronted with these problems. The first point you need to know is that you are not likely to change the attitude or the “work ethic” of the other generation. In the workplace as in any context attitudes and work ethic are relative. They depend upon what shaped those things when that generation was growing up. We are all products of our past shaped by current events and people and issues during our upbringing.
Each generation has different norms and behaviors that impact the workplace. Each generation believes that its work ethic is better than that of subsequent generations. Since you’re not going to change work ethic, a better question is how do I recruit, retain, and motivate your entire group of employees. First you need to understand each of the three generations currently in the workplace now. Here is a brief sketch of each:
Baby Boomers - born between 1946 and 1964 Baby Boomers are associated with the rejection and the redefinition of traditional values. There was social upheaval in the 1960s. To date they are the healthiest and wealthiest generation. They are sometimes seen as focused workaholics, committed to one organization, and focused on success as defined by possession and wealth. If you are managing Baby Boomers remember that respect is key and that dedication to the employer is important to them. Encourage sharing of their vast knowledge and allow them to lead projects and others. Encourage them to be mentors.
Generation X – born between 1965 and 1980 - Generation X averages between 3 to 5 years in any one organization. They tend to be free agents and are frequently distrustful of corporate motives. Remember, this group watched their parents lose employment and they were the first group of latch key kids since both parents were employed. They don’t like being managed. They are technologically savvy and quite efficient at managing themselves. If you are managing them offer flexible schedules, interesting work, sense of purpose. Recognize them for their accomplishments not their tenure and cut out cumbersome bureaucratic processes. They want empowerment. Give them a say in establishing goals.
Generation Y – born between 1981 and 2005 - They want the best and think they deserve it. Remember this group grew up in an environment where everyone was a winner and everyone got a prize. They are ethnically diverse and forget the gender roles, they have. They need to see how their work will contribute and the crave mentoring (hello Baby Boomers).
I have been discussing generational engagement in the workplace with many groups. I would love to hear how it’s working out in your organization.