5 Ways to Foster Cross-Generational Workplace Harmony

There are currently four different, incredibly distinct generations in the workforce with an additional generation just beginning their first job

By Richard Lannon

When you consider the different personality types, learning styles and backgrounds that make up any workplace, it becomes clear that offices are true modern-day melting pots. This is not new. What is new is that all of these very different people are now working side-by-side, rather than being generationally segregated. This creates tension.

There are currently four different, incredibly distinct generations in the workforce with an additional generation just beginning their first jobs. Here is a brief intro to each group:

Traditionalists (born 1927-1945): This generation experienced World War II and The Great Depression, and created vaccines for polio, tuberculosis, tetanus and whooping cough.

 Baby Boomers (1946-1962): This generation experienced the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Movement and the Vietnam War.

Generation Xers (1963-1983): This generation experienced Watergate, the Iranian hostage crisis, space travel and computers.

Generation Yers (1984-2000): This generation grew up with cell phones, Internet, TV violence and Terrorism.

Generation Z (2001 to present): This generation, also known as generation 9/11, is plugged in and many argue that they know too much. They are starting to babysit and will soon join the golden arches for their first jobs. They value technology and games.

All of these important events and experiences have a profound impact on each generation’s values, beliefs, characteristics and attitudes. From Traditionalists to Gen Yers to the Zers, each group can be a source of positive challenge, creativity, opportunity and significant growth if managed well.

Conversely, if you do not have a sound understanding of what makes each generation unique and, most importantly, how each generation works differently, your company may be in line for major conflict.

In the book Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers, and Nexters in Your Workplace by Zemke, Raines and Filipczak, managing different generations is described as “diversity management at its most challenging.”

So… what can companies do to create harmony in the workplace? Generations at Work recommends five ways to avoid confusion and conflict:

1. Accommodate employee differences – Treat your employees as you do your customers. Learn all you can about them, work to meet their specific needs and serve them according to their unique preferences. Make an effort to accommodate personal scheduling needs, work/life balance issues and non-traditional lifestyles.

2. Create workplace choices – Allow the workplace to shape itself around the work being done, the customers being served and the people who work there. Shorten the chain of command and decrease bureaucracy.

3. Opt for a sophisticated management style – Give those who report to you the big picture, specific goals and measures. Then turn them loose. Give them feedback, rewards and recognition as appropriate.

4. Respect competence and initiative – Treat everyone, from the newest recruit to the most seasoned employee, as if they have great things to offer and are motivated to do their best. Hire carefully to assure a good match between people and work.

5. Nourish retention – Keeping valuable employees is every bit as important in today’s economy as finding and retaining customers. Offer a wide range of training options including one-on-one coaching sessions, interactive computer-based classes and even create an extensive and varied classroom curriculum. Encourage lots of lateral movement and broader assignments.

According to Generations at Work, companies need to build non-traditional workplaces, exhibit flexibility, emphasize respectful relationships and focus on retaining talented employees.

It is possible to create an environment that engages every employee. It just takes some learning and strategy development. Companies that successfully deal with generational differences create a work culture that not only focuses on what needs to get done, but also accommodates the various ways in which people approach work.

Source: Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers, and Nexters in Your Workplace, Ron Zemke, Claire Raines and Bob Filipczak, AMACOM, 1999.

Richard Lannon is presently Vice-President of Strategic Planning & Leadership Development at Legacy Bowes Group. He can be reached at [email protected], www.legacybowes.com, www.richardlannon.ca Copyright Richard Lannon 2012.