Your Handy Guide to Multi-Generational Workplaces


When we think about diversity, we often think multiculturalism and leave it there. However, our workplaces often span four generations... meaning that 20-year-olds can find themselves working side-by-side with colleagues who are older than they are by 50 years or more. This allows teams to gain the competitive edge by taking advantage of multiple perspectives, experiences, and skills.

Who are we?

The Greatest Generation (born 1945 and before): we remember when Jackie Robinson joined the major league and World War II was the major event of our childhood.
Formative Messages: Sacrifice; Consider the common good.
Technology of the Era: Radio
Motivation: Leaders who help us connect our actions to the overall good of the organization
What drives us crazy: Indecisive managers who are touchy-feely, who use profanity
What Gets Our Attention: "Your experience is respected here"

The Baby Boomers (born 1946 - 1964): we remember Woodstock and the moon landing; our households were influenced by Dr. Benjamin Spock and the mood of our time was optimistic and future-oriented.
Formative Messages: Work well with others; Be anything you want to be
Technology of the Era: Television
Motivation: Leaders who get us involved and show us how we can make a difference
What drives us crazy: Managers who aren't open to input and practice one-upmanship
What Gets Our Attention: "Your opinion is valued"

Generation X (born 1965 - 1980): we remember Three Mile Island and the identification of AIDS; we were more likely to be latchkey kids from divorced parents and learned to thrive in the midst of chaos.
Formative Messages: Get real; Always ask "why?"
Technology of the Era: The Personal Computer
Motivation: Leaders who flexible and results oriented, genuine and informal
What drives us crazy: Managers who micro-manage, don't walk the talk and are bureaucratic
What Gets Our Attention: "There aren't a lot of rules here"

The Millennials (born 1980 - 2000): we remember the end of Apartheid, Princess Diana, and the Columbine shootings; we've seen the Tsunami of the Asian Ocean and Hurricane Katrina.
Formative Messages: You are special; Serve your community
Technology of the Era: The Internet
Motivation: Leaders who are collaborative and comfortable coaching; who know our personal goals
What drives us crazy: Managers who are cynical and sarcastic, are condescending and inconsistent
What Gets Our Attention: "You can be a hero here"

Here are six ways to successfully lead and participate on multigenerational teams:

1. Initiate conversation about generations. Try to understand what is important to each individual instead of relying on generalizations.

2. Ask about needs and preferences. Often we tend to project our own needs onto others. Ask!

3. Offer options. Recognize that choices will make meeting needs and preferences of a diverse workforce easier.

4. Personalize your style. Be flexible. Find creative ways to meet expectations.

5. Build on strengths. Urge people who are different to become more of who they already are and capitalize on those strengths.

6. Pursue different perspectives. Go beyond tolerating differences and embrace diversity.
Ultimately we are drawn together by what makes us similar: we want to have work that is purposeful in a workplace culture that allows us to thrive. Everyone can make a contribution towards this goal.

(H/T to American Association for Retired People (AARP) for much of the source material.)

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