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Generational Differences in the Workplace 

There has been much discussion lately about Millennials and how they respond to a different style of management compared to Baby Boomers. As Managers and Directors of companies or businesses, we need to understand that in order to manage appropriately, effectively and positively we need to be able to adapt our management style to the different personalities and ages in our businesses.

So today I have focussed on reading about different generations in the workplace. Firstly, let's break down the generations.

Traditionalists OR Silent Generation: 1920’s to 1945

Baby Boomers: 1946 – 1964

Generation X: 1965 – 1976

Millennials OR Gen Y: 1977 – 1995

I Gen OR Gen Z: 1996 – onwards

While generational diversity in our work environments promotes a broader range of talent and skills, it can sometimes lead to conflicting ideas and stereotypes. For example, The Baby Boomers think Generation X needs a stronger work ethic, Gen X sees the Baby Boomers as self-absorbed workaholics and everyone thinks Gen Y’s are selfish and self-entitled.

There are a number of different Management styles such as; Autocratic, Laissez-Fair, and Transactional etc.. Though generally speaking, a manager will take on one or two of these management styles and not adapt them to the needs of the different generations.

From the readings I have done, all generations have a different set of values, work styles and communication styles.

Let's take a further look into them now.

Traditionalists OR Silent Generation: 1920’s to 1945

Ages: 71 and above.

Some of the historic events that Traditionalists lived through are; The Great Depression, WWII, and The Cold War. This generation is seen to be the wealthiest generation of the 5 listed above and many Traditionalists are retired in 2016.

Traditionalists that are still in the workforce can be found in executive roles and are members of boards. Traditionalists grew up with many rules and pressures to conform. Traditionalists believe that no one should stand out and that everyone should work for the common good. They value dedication, sacrifice and have a respect for authority. Traditionalists appreciate a formal approach to communication and appreciate face-to-face contact. Traditionalists are loyal employees and possess high-quality interpersonal skills.

Baby Boomers: 1946 – 1964

Ages: 52 – 70

Some of the historic events that the Baby Boomers have lived through are; The Assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. The Baby Boomers created the term ‘Workaholic’ and is the largest generation of the 5 listed above. This generation grew up with fewer rules than the traditionalists and was raised in more of a nurturing environment.

The Baby Boomers believe that success is achieved through hard work and competitiveness. This generation is not afraid to question authority and can often have less optimistic views. There are many stereotypes around Baby Boomers – they are expensive, difficult to manage, are resistant to change and won’t learn new skills. Baby Boomers are committed, hardworking and career focussed (hence the creation of the term ‘Workaholic’). The Baby Boomers work ethic is characterised by loyalty, dedication, and willingness for longevity in a role. Respect is paramount when managing Baby Boomers. Because this generation has such a strong work ethic, they expect the same of their co-workers, especially in the form of follow-ups, documenting and organising.

Generation X: 1965 – 1976

Ages: 40 – 51

Some of the historic events that Generation X have lived through are; AIDS, Fall of Berlin Wall, Reaganomics, and Computers. Xers are very pragmatic and result focussed, they thrive off of efficiency and being able to enjoy their free time. As people of this generation are moving into middle-age, they are shifting into leadership roles. As managers, Gen Xers seem to bring more flexibility and work-life balance into the workplace.

When talking about communication, the Xers have grown up with pagers and personal computers were cutting edge. Xers prefer a traditional hierarchy and may be slightly driven by money, position, and growth within their careers. Xers value feedback, autonomy, recognition and one-on-one time with their Managers or Directors.

Millennials OR Gen Y: 1977 – 1995

Ages: 21 – 39

Some of the historic events that the Millennials have lived through are; the death of Princess Diana, Terrorism, the O.J Simpson Trial and the Columbine Shooting. We grew up in the best of both worlds – with the introduction of technology and the rise of the internet, we went from playing on the streets with our friends and sitting at the dinner table as a family for meals, to waiting in line for the first iPod. I recently published some free content on Millennials – you can find that by clicking here.

Millennials are the second largest generation to enter the workforce under the Boomers and are plagued with high levels of student debts. We are optimistic, Impatient, more culturally and racially tolerant than other generations and believe in equality. Millennials have entrepreneurial minds and value meaningful work. Millennials as a group are not driven by money and would prefer to work in an environment that fulfilled their cultural values over a larger sum of money. Millennials appreciate transparency and honesty. Our preferred style of communication is face-to-face but a good email or text message never goes astray.

I Gen OR Gen Z: 1996 – onwards

Ages: 20 and younger

Some of the historic events that the IGen have lived through are; The 9/11 Attack, Great Recession, Facebook and Hurricane Katrina. This generation has grown up in a world where everyone is on social media and taking pictures with dog filters. Members of the IGen have a unique set of characteristics that can easily propel them into leadership positions at work. This generation embraces being able to choose from a growing plethora of workspace typically appreciating workspaces with clear circulation with visual access and obvious intent of spaces.

Because this generation has grown up with technology, their inter-personal skills, and face-to-face communication skills are less developed than other generations. The attention span of the IGeners is minimal and they are susceptible to distractions.

I Geners value the planet and are concerned about the footprint we are leaving. They value technology and display symptoms of emotional distress when kept away from their personal electronic devices. This generation has/is growing up in a world where there is more economic instability so, they crave workplace security. This generation values self-expression, marketing and their ability to adapt is quite rapid.

There we have it, five different generations with different values, communication skills, and knowledge. We are all individuals and I know that there is a drastic difference between how I learn, work and grow compared to other Millennials. As management, there is definitely a need to learn about the different generations and their needs, but to also learn about each individual and each personality without generalising.

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