Making it work

Bridging the gap in multi-generational teams

By Gerald McGroarty,

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When Pete Townshend of The Who wrote “My Generation” back in 1965, little did he know that 47 years later, people still wouldn’t “d-dig what we all s-s-say.”

Multi-generational team in actionThe generation gap is getting wider and figuring it out isn’t getting any easier. With people working well into their late 60s and 70s and many 15- and 16-year-olds landing their first jobs, the 2012 workforce will see five generations working side-by-side in a technological landscape that is as diverse as ever.

The five-generation demographic breakdown looks like this:

  • Traditionalists: born 1927-1945
  • Baby Boomers: born 1946-1964
  • Generation X: born 1965-1980
  • Generation Y: born 1981-1995
  • iGeneration: born 1996-present

You can give or take a year on either side of the generation ranges, but it’s clear that technology is redefining the generation gap as much as technology is redefining our lives.

Regardless of your age, understanding the preferences of each generation is key to more effective relationships and essential to working better as a multi-generational team.

Facilitator and stand-up comic Julie Kim specializes in multi-generational workplace dynamics. She works coast-to-coast with organizations delivering highly engaging workshops that bridge the generation gaps and put the emphasis on authenticity. “We are all more alike than we might think,” says Kim. “With openness, awareness, empathy and respect from all sides . . . the results can be incredibly heartening and beneficial for all.”

Whether you’re managing a team or part of one, here’s a little cheat sheet to help you navigate through the generation gaps and take advantage of your co-workers’ preferences:

Traditionalists (1927-1945)

The majority of Traditionalists (also known as the Silent Generation) are retired from the workforce, but many are still working and even more are volunteering.

  • Who they are: Loyalty, hard work and experience define this generation. Roll up the sleeves and get ’er done is the battle cry of these seasoned pros.
  • How to best connect: Traditionalists love face-to-face interaction. They are less tech-savvy than other generations but experts on conversation. They’ll leave social media to the newbies, but are happy to engage in meaningful dialogue. Tap into their experiences and listen. Can they multi-task? Absolutely. But they’ve built a legacy of traditional single-task focus that gets results.

Baby Boomers (1946-1964)

Now in their late 40s, 50s and early 60s, Baby Boomers are well-established in their careers and are entrenched in positions of power or seniority. As products of the post-war era, Baby Boomers were driven by social change, individualism and success.

  • Who they are: In years past, Baby Boomers were often very loyal to one company and as a result were committed and work-centric to a fault. The 80s and 90s were a wake-up call for this group, as dramatic shifts in the economy and in organizational design meant expecting long-term job security was no longer realistic. Technology also exploded during this period and the learning curve for many Boomers is never-ending.
  • How to best connect: If you’re part of the newer generation, respect the work and foundation that Baby Boomers have built. Yes, they may refer to the good old days, but you can learn lots from their strengths and weaknesses – just ask them. Boomers are certainly more tech-savvy now than ever before, but cut them some slack if they prefer to meet or email rather than instant message or text.

Generation X (1965-1980)

Gen Xers are markedly different from Boomers. Having seen their parents struggle with restructuring, redundancy or retirement, Xers walk with a pep in their step that is in contrast to Baby Boomers.

  • Who they are: Gen Xers put more value on work-life balance than their parents did. This doesn’t mean they’re not committed, it simply means their attitude towards work is different from that of previous generations. They are hard-working, optimistic and embrace the global landscape as a huge opportunity to make an impact. Like Boomers, they are achievement-oriented, but not at the expense of a more balanced life.
  • How to best connect: If you’re a Boomer, accept the fact that Generation X is wired differently from you. They don’t like to waste time or be micro-managed, so fewer meetings and more to-the-point conversations are right up their alley. They are motivated by challenges and opportunities, so feed the machine and let them do their thing.

Generation Y (1981-1994)

Just when you thought you had figured out Generation X, along came Gen Y. The next evolution of the multi-generation workforce entered the game with a completely new set of values, mindset and priorities.

  • Who they are: Generation Y is defined by its need to live a work/life balance without sacrificing personal time the way previous generations did. They are technologically well-connected and as a result prefer to communicate via some form of keypad.
  • How to best connect: Gen Ys love feedback, so take advantage of it. They will jump from job to job to find the right fit, but something as simple as letting them know how well they’re doing will score big points. They value opportunity, challenges and flexibility more than salary or office perks.

The iGeneration (1995 – present)

Technology is defining the next generation. Children of the iPad, iPhone, iTunes and Instagram are now known as the “iGeneration.”

  • Who they are: The front end of the iGeneration is just entering the workforce now and bringing with it an incredible talent never before seen by humanity – multiple conversations at one time without moving the lips.
  • How to best connect: Be real. The iGeneration can sniff out phonies, so be as authentic as possible. Leading-edge technology excites them so it should come as no surprise that they enjoy exciting and meaningful work. If that can’t happen, at the very least, add a little spice to what may seem to them as mundane.

I try to practise what I preach, but with a 16-year-old daughter I need all the help I can get. Feel free to comment below with your tips and strategies to connect with today’s teens. Remember the line from that other classic Who song, Baba O’Riley: “It’s only teenage wasteland”? That’s where I find myself.

Working well More bright ideas for managing your career and making the most of your benefits.

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