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Multi-Generations in the Workplace: Impact of Perceptions

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Mon Nov 10 2014

Multi-Generations in the Workplace: Impact of Perceptions
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At no time in our history, have so many and such different generations

with such diversity been asked to work together shoulder to shoulder,

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side by side, cubicle to cubicle. 

—Generations at Work, (AMACOM 2013) 

This is the first post in a blog series discussing the diversity and similarities of the various generations in the workplace. The goal is for readers to not only gain awareness of the characteristics and behaviors of each group, but also acknowledge and appreciate the benefits for the individual worker and the organization. 

Most people are aware that today’s workplace consists of multi-generational staff working side by side, managing each other, or serving on the same team or work project. Growing up during different times, experiencing different world events, and being raised with different values and philosophies, however, can sometimes lead to friction among workers—or even serious clashes.  

Clearly, there is a range of perspectives, expectations, work practices, and career statuses present in the workplace. But why do we always seem to focus on the differences between the generations? Instead, let’s concentrate on the commonalities with understanding and acceptance. 

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Perceptions influence reactions 

With four generations in the workplace, and a fifth beginning to seek employment, it is vital for people to continue working together effectively and efficiently—rather than emphasize a “we” versus “them” mindset. 

To better understand the other generations, it can help to recognize how they perceive yours. You can start to learn more about your own generation by answering the following questions:

  • How would members of other generations describe yours? For example, if you are from Gen X or Gen Y, you may think that people from the Traditionalist or Boomer generations feel you are disrespectful, dress too informally, or do not have a strong work ethic. 

  • What do you want the other generations to know about yours? For example, if you are from the Boomer generation, you may want the Millennials to know that you are willing to be more flexible about using social media for communication purposes, you are more adaptable than they expect, or that you value continuing learning and development.  

In what ways do your responses say the same thing, but use different language? In what ways do they diverge? What do you think you can do to gain a closer alignment between your responses?  

To gain even more understanding, team members can become mentors to each other to learn about individual generational influences, values, and characteristics. Members of the same team also can conduct support exercises focused on learning what characteristics and behaviors are shared among the generations. 

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Bottom line: Workers from all four generations desire many of the same things in the workplace, including respect, flexibility, fairness, and the opportunity to contribute to the organization. It is important to address perceptions of stereotypes that can result in inter-generational misunderstandings, frustration, and conflict—complicating the challenge of maintaining organizational cohesion and effectiveness. Positive perceptions enhance and promote a work environment where people share the same end goals and are motivated to do their best.  

Learning more 

As an L&D specialist, think about how you can contribute to maximizing the productivity and performance of a multi-generational workforce. This will involve much more than knowing the profiles of the “typical” Traditionalist, Boomer, Gen X, and Gen Y worker. 

To learn more strategies and best practices for training and managing a multi-generational workforce, I suggest checking out the following resources: 

  • Burmeister, M., (2008_). From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations:_ Fairfax, VA: Synergy Press. 

  • Burmeister, M., (2009_)._ From Boomers to Bloggers: A Practical Guide for Leaders of Multi-Generational Teams, Fairfax, VA: Synergy Press.

  • Johnson, M. & Johnson, L., (2010). Generations, Inc. New York City: AMACOM.

  • Shaw, H., (2013). Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart, Carol Stream, IL: Tydale House Publishers.

  • Zemke, R., Et al., (2013). G_enerations at Work: Managing the Clash of Boomers. Gen Xers, and Gen Yers in the Workplace,_ New York City: AMACOM. 

The next post in this series will focus on the diversity of communication styles among the generations. All employees, regardless of age, want to work with people who are believable and trustworthy. They want to feel that everyone is “up front” regarding commitments and agreements. Authentic, open, and accepting two-way communications will help senior-level employees remain engaged, and help younger generations commit to the organization’s culture and values and prepare them for future leadership positions.

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