Generational Diversity in the Workplace
Diversity in the Workplace Managerial Communications 10/14/2011 Today, the workplace environment is comprised of people, both males and females from all different cultures and generations. For the first time in U. S. history there are four different generations out in the workforce. A generation can be defined as a group of individuals born within a term years having similar ideas, goals, attitudes and experiences. It can also be defined as the average period between the birth of parents and the birth of their children.
Resources differ as to when some generations start and end; a generation is usually around 20 years long. generational differences are based on broad variations in values that develop based on the contrasting environment and social dynamics each generation experiences as they come of age. In the workplace, these differences seem to be generating clashes around work-life balance, employee loyalty, authority, and other important issues. Generational differences are based on broad variations in values that develop based on the contrasting environment and social dynamics each generation experiences as they come of age.
In the workplace, these differences seem to be generating clashes around work-life balance, employee loyalty, authority, interpersonal relationships and other important issues (Notter, 2007). Sometimes contradictions and problems arise when identifying the characteristics of a generation. Some studies in the 1980’s described Generation X as self-reliant, ambitious, and career –minded. By the 1990’s they were described as the cynical, whining, slacker generation. There is a lack of mutual exclusivity in generational groups due to where in a generation a person was born. Events such as John F.
Kennedy’s assassination and terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 served as formative moments of that generation’s coming of age during the time but also had impact on members of all generations. Generations can also have overlapping or complementary characteristics. Recognizing and understanding the factors that influence a generation can build a foundation for understanding the generational differences. Once there is a foundation to build on, coworkers and managers can enhance their interpersonal relationships and increase productivity.
The generations are categorized by four groups; . Traditionalists or Veterans ( 1925-1945) 2. Baby Boomers (1946-1959) 3. Generation X or Xers (1960-1979) 4. Generation Y or Millennials (1980-2000) The first group is known as the Traditionalists or Veterans. This group shared the experiences of the Great Depression and World War 2. Many, but not all of this generation are already retired. After the depression and the war this generation lived in a time period where people needed to pull together and make sacrifices to rebuild their lives. Traditionalists are described as being conservative, loyal and hard working.
At work, they adhere to rules, respect authority and are willing to make sacrifices for the company. Traditionalists like a hierarchical structure. They have a strong work ethic, they like to contribute and give advice. They did not grow up with the current technology, which may be why they prefer to work with people rather than computers and would appreciate a written memo or conversation over an e-mail or voicemail. The Baby Boomer generation earned this name because of having the largest impact on American society due to its size.
Boomers witness Vietnam, the Kennedy and King assassinations, Woodstock, Watergate and the sexual revolution. Boomers grew up in a time of prosperity and are optimistic. They hold a sense of self-worth, personal fulfillment and believe they are capable of changing the world. They are cause-oriented, workaholics and believe in company loyalty. They care what others think of them but do not take criticism well and may be insulted by constant feedback. Boomers would rather perceive their boss as a friend. Generation X grew up in a period of financial, familial and societal insecurity.
They witnessed their parents get laid off despite making sacrifices. They also witness a decline of American global power. Some defining moments and trends of this generation are the end of the Cold War, the Challenger disaster, Sesame Street, MTV, personal computers, AIDS and divorce. Generation Xers grew up with both parents working or divorced parents, becoming the first generation of “latch key kids”. As a result, they are highly independent, resilient and adaptable. This is the first generation expected to earn less than their parents. They are a skeptical and will question authority.
Gen Xers are goal oriented, they want to be challenged, willing to take risks and forget the rules. They also aspire to balance work/personal life. The newest generation has many titles, but most popular is Generation Y or Millennials. Their defining moments are the tragedy of 9/11, the Columbine High School shooting and the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Resulting from all this violence is a resurgence of patriotism and heroism. Millennials have been shaped by parental excess, resulting in a generation that is overprotected and overscheduled.
They are also the most technologically advanced generation. They are more globally “in touch” and embrace diversity. Millennials tend to be optimistic, value teamwork and are able to multitask.. While they respect authority, they are not awed by it and want instant gratification. They are socially active and desire a balanced life. Here is a table of some of the four generations’ work characteristics http://www. fdu. edu/newspubs/magazine/05ws/generations. htm Managing each generation requires customizing management styles to each generation’s needs.
Traditionalists put work first and need to be shown that they are valued for their contributions. Baby Boomers live to work and believe hard work and sacrifice equals success. Generation X work to live and need to be given options. They aspire to achieve a work/life balance. They need management to be information providers and acknowledge their ability to work independently. Generation Y (Millennials) want to live and then work. Management should customize a plan specific to them, providing information and guidance with the flexibility to balance career/family life.
When it comes to training, generations have preferred learning styles. Hard skills are skills where the rules stay the same regardless of which company, circumstance or people you work with. In contrast, soft skills are self-management skills and people skills where the rules changes depending on the company culture and people you work with (http://bemycareercoach. com/1704/soft-skills/hard-skills-soft-skills. html). The majority of Traditionalists and Boomers prefer to learn soft skills on the job and hard skills through classroom instruction.
In contrast, Gen Xers and Millenials mostly prefer to learn soft skills and hard skills on the job. Interpersonal relationships are critical to achieving organizational goals (O’Hair, 2011). There are ways to minimize generational conflicts by understanding generational differences and focus on building stronger interpersonal relationships. Research studies have concluded that at least one similarity among all generations is the importance of respect. Consultant Simma Lieberman suggests,” being mindful of how assumptions can influence one’s interactions”.
Some of her strategies are to “show respect, be attentive and approach someone of another generation with interest and avoid generational jargon”. Generational context is not about age but shared experiences. Characterizations based on age should be avoided. Not every Traditionalist is going to hate sending e-mails or producing a Power Point presentation and not every Millennial is going to speak in acronyms. Understanding and acknowledging that each generation may have a different approach to handling the same problem. It is not that one is right and the other wrong, it is just that-different.