Dealing With Five Generations in the Workplace

July 7, 2015 Nick Begley

For the 2015 Arts Reach Canada Conference in Toronto, Maureen Andersen and I explored the implications of having five generations in the workplace. It’s the first time ever that these generations have all worked side by side, making this an exciting era for managers in any industry.

How big of a difference is there between generations?

How big of a difference is there between generations?

During our project kick-off meeting, Maureen (a Boomer) said she thinks my generation (Millennials) is eager to leave an organization if they are not promoted quickly. I thought this was an unfair generalization. Then I told Maureen that I believe Boomers love to delegate and she disagreed.

There we were building a presentation on working cross-generationally while disagreeing on how another generation acts. And, these types of preconceived notions are one of the biggest issues that multi-generational teams face.

So who are the five generations and what generalizations exist for each?

Traditionalists (Born before 1946):

  • Lived through the Great Depression and World War II, experienced struggles for minorities and women, have adopted many technological advances – from the first washing machines to personal computers
  • Loyal, respect authority, value job security and staying active, most would choose not to leave the workforce if they could stay (but not in a position of power)

Baby Boomers (1946-1964):

  • Lived through post-war social change during the 1960s, saw the struggles of their parents and desired a better life
  • Well educated, question authority, workaholics (but ready for retirement), most mindful of work-life balance

Generation X (1965-1980):

  • Witnessed dramatic changes in technology, economy and social norms (e.g. high divorce rate among parents), smallest generation in the workplace due to wide adoption of birth control, exposed to the best and worst of relationships
  • Family oriented, skeptical, care equally about benefits and salary, like proven technology over emerging tools, prefer mentorship to management

Millennials or Generation Y (1981-1994):

  • Grew up with technology, exposed to more vulgar media and art, usually raised by dual income parents
  • Highly socialized, tech savvy, globally minded, concerned about the future, want daily feedback, compelled to stay at a company if they are making a difference

Linksters (Born after 1994):

  • Protective parents, experience high media saturation, less segregation within their generation based on gender, race, sexuality or religion
  • Close family ties, confident, happy, team players, tolerant of other lifestyles, not mindful of security or the difference between a professional and personal tool

Obviously, these generalizations are rooted in something, but the key to working with other generations is to ignore preconceived ideas.

Our project’s findings completely eliminated my own presumptions. I was surprised that Traditionalists are eager to learn new technologies. And why not – they experienced the first home telephone, subway, television, dishwasher and more. I was equally surprised to find that Gen X’ers are most likely to job hop.

The worklpace is changing (photo by Startup Stock Photos)

The workplace is changing (photo by Startup Stock Photos)

However, even these facts need to be taken with a grain of salt. If you hire a Gen X manager, for example, don’t immediately begin worrying that he or she is already looking for their next role.

Here are some tips for making the most of your cross-generational team:

  1. Think of your team as a team, not generations. In ticketed entertainment, we have all five generations working in various departments. From legacy employees to interns, consider what motivates your team as a group as opposed to what motivates the different age ranges.
  2. Value responsibilities outside the workplace. Regardless of age, everyone has personal issues and responsibilities. Boomers are caring for aging parents and their children’s new families. Traditionalists may need medical tests that come with aging. Millennials have new families. All are good reasons for leaving the office, but it isn’t your business. It is good business, however, to ensure everyone can attend to their personal matters without fear or complication.
  3. Implement regular reciprocal mentoring and feedback. Different generations love to learn from each other and everyone on your team has something to contribute. Formalizing processes to encourage peer-to-peer learning is a great way to bridge the generational divide.
  4. Provide clear on-boarding for new employees and projects. Everyone deserves your attention to bring them up to speed. Overcome any hurdles and address concerns with solid organizational socialization and by holding project kick-off meetings to ensure your team functions as a cohesive unit.

This post was prepared as part of Motivating Cross Generational Teams, originally presented at Arts Reach’s 2015 Canada Conference. We will be taking this session on the road to other conferences, including the FLOAT 2015 Annual Meeting on July 13, 2015. Keep locked to our Twitter and Facebook pages for future dates as they are announced.

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