Generational Clash Points: How We Work and Communicate

By 2021, Gen X will be the senior members of the work force, and both Gen X and New Millennials will be in leadership positions. Big changes are already beginning to appear and, in 10 years, the world of work will be significantly different. Through corporate coaching, I’ve often listened to common complaints. Here are a few: Clash Point #1: Work Ethics Older workers talk about “going to work” and have always had a specified work schedule like 9-to-5. In the manufacturing economy, everyone used to be under the same roof, at the same time, to achieve maximum productivity, but times – and jobs – change. Younger workers view work as “something you do”, anywhere, any time. They communicate 24/7 and expect real-time responses. The rigidity of set work hours seems unnecessary and even unproductive in the information age. To younger workers, work ethics aren’t defined by how many hours one spends at a desk. Success is defined not by rank or seniority, but by what matters to each person individually. Younger workers want to cut to the chase and define their true value. They don’t want to be paid for time; they want to be paid for their services and skills. For younger employees with working spouses and children, work-life balance and flexible conditions have greater priority. Is someone who arrives at 9:30 a.m. necessarily working less hard than those who arrive at 8:30 a.m.? Differences in generational attitudes must not interfere with progress and productivity. Clash Point #2: How We Communicate Ask anyone over the age of 40 about younger workers, and you’ll hear stories about texting,...

How Are Younger Workers Different?

What happens when generations don’t share the same values and beliefs about workplace success? Older managers become baffled and confused when what used to work, no longer motivates new workers. Through corporate coaching, I get asked about this frequently. Business consultant Cam Marston presents insights into managing across the generational divide in Motivating the “What’s in It for Me?” Workforce (2007, John Wiley & Sons). Now, more than ever, American workers born after 1965 aren’t following in their elders’ footsteps. They have different workplace values and definitions of success. Baby Boomers occupy most positions of power and responsibility on organizational charts. Most of today’s corporate management practices still reflect the systems and values of their predecessors, the veterans. Gen Xers and Millennials therefore present unique challenges for Boomer managers. They aren’t interested in time-honored traditions or “the way things have always been done”. Rather, they’re single-mindly focused on what it takes to get ahead to reach their perceived career destination. This group shuns past definitions of success: climbing the company ladder and earning the rewards that come with greater responsibility. The company ladder, in their view, is irrelevant. Mature workers and Boomers in managerial and leadership positions struggle with these differing values and beliefs, wondering how to motivate their younger colleagues. If promotions, raises and bonuses fail to motivate, then what does the trick? We can identify several differences in values. The new generation of workers has: A work ethic that no longer respects or values 10-hour workdays An easily attained competence in new technologies and a facility to master even newer ones with little discomfortv Tenuous to nonexistent...

Generational Gaps: This One’s Bigger

Older generations’ complaints about the next generation are nothing new. Conflicts replay throughout every decade. However this current generation gap is bigger than we’ve ever seen because of technology. I hear about these frustrations frequently in corporate coaching work I do. No generation is better or worse than another, and prevailing attitudes are neither right nor wrong – just decidedly different. Learning how to work, live and play together is crucial, and every manager must master ways to bridge generational gaps. Managerial survival calls for a coordinated, collaborative strategy to leverage each generation’s strengths and neutralize its liabilities. Who Are the Generations? First, a quick review of how the generations are grouped in the modern workplace: Veterans, born between 1922 and 1945 (52 million people). This cohort was born before or during World War II. Earliest experiences are associated with this world event. Some also remember the Great Depression. The Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964 (77 million people). This generation was born during or after World War II and was raised in an era of extreme optimism, opportunity and progress. Boomers, for the most part, grew up in two-parent households, with safe schools, job security and post-war prosperity. They represent just under half of all U.S. workers. On the job, they value loyalty, respect the organizational hierarchy and generally wait their turn for advancement. Generation X, born between 1965 and 1979 (70.1 million people). These workers were born during a rapidly changing social climate and economic recession, including Asian competition. They grew up in two-career families with rising divorce rates, downsizing and the dawn of the high-tech/information...