Managing the Generation Gap

employee generation gapIn today’s workplaces, you’ll find workers from three distinct generations:

  • Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964, this is the post-World War II baby boom generation.  Boomers tend to favor working forward toward one goal.  They want to advance vertically, up the reporting chain, and are interested in job security with one employer.
  • Generation Xers – this group, generally born between 1965 and 1980, enjoys keeping multiple balls in the air at one time.  They average three to five years in a job, have a lot of technical knowledge, and are competent and independent with a distrust of large organizations.  Xers pick up knowledge as they go, and value family life and work/life balance.
  • Generation Y/Millennials – born generally between 1981 and 2000, they need work that is meaningful and challenging; if not, they quickly become impatient.  They may seem disloyal because they follow the work rather than the employer.  To best manage this group, let them figure things out for themselves, and don’t over train.  Millennials welcome feedback as valuable coaching.

Managers must learn to work with members from each generation singly as well as on project teams.  Since each group finds job and career fulfillment in different ways, it’s important to understand how they differ to successfully manage the team.  A basic understanding of the differing goals, work habits and work styles of the generations can help managers bring out the best in each team member and team results.

When bringing diverse team members together, it’s vital to establish ground rules clearly for all to understand.  Be sure to cover the following basics:

Project goals and deliverables – all team members must have clear project responsibilities and timetables established up front.  The generations may prefer different types of managerial feedback (direct supervision vs. mentoring vs. coaching), but that doesn’t change the team’s ultimate goals or deliverables due dates.

Team meetings and working hours – Boomers understand rigid work schedules, and participating in formal team meetings at any time.  However, Xers prefer that work responsibilities are limited to normal business hours, while work time and place for Millennials are fluid.  Communicate work place expectations clearly to all team members.

Team communications – Millennials thrive on emails and texts; Boomers prefer face-to-face meetings; Xers fall in the middle.  The team must choose the best ways to communicate project issues and results, and stick to them.

Members of the different generations may not understand each other, but it’s the team manager’s job to make sure that they work together effectively.  Each brings different strengths to the table and can learn from each other to the betterment of the group.  Boomers should make themselves open to new technology, including IMs, texting, social media and smartphone apps.  The younger generations can learn from the wide experience of the Boomers, and welcome the opportunity to take over their more senior responsibilities.

It can happen, however, that a manager becomes frustrated and needs help in understanding differences to reconcile team difficulties and move forward on projects.  At this point, be sure to remind the manager of the resources available with your EAP.  Counseling can help with manager difficulties as well as team member frustrations and work issues.

All organizations will benefit from today’s diverse and globally-connected generations.  Diverse teams that mirror a business’s constituents can best work toward common goals to benefit their customer base.

This entry was posted in EAP, Human Resources/Management, Workplace and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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