Four Generations in the Workforce: How Are We Getting Along?

Submitted by Betsey Merkel on Thu, 08/28/2008 - 17:49.

Four Generations in the workforce……… How are we getting along????????

Article by Bonnie N. Dick, CGI, Inc., and Employment Consultant

It is exciting times in the workplace today and things are changing as I write this article. For the first time in history we now have four generations in the workforce. Starting with the Traditionalists – born prior to 1946; the Baby Boomers- born between 1946-1964; Generation X-born between 1965-1980 and the Millennials (Generation Y)-born 1981 through 1994. As we mingle together, we experience differences in perspective and style on life and work. It is human nature to believe that the generation we are part of is the best. Truth is that we all bring a unique perspective and enormous value. It is important to realize that we must all be open to the new ideas and changes that each generation brings. We all have wonderful ideas to bring to the workforce and all can benefit by collaborating and working together; valuing the differences. Understanding the generations is key to being able to appreciate them and valuing their contributions.

The Plain Dealer August 14, 2008 article,"Gen Y post boomer style alters workplace" by Diane Strafford in Kansas City, Missouri caught my eye. It pointed out that different generations were not talking to each other about their differences consequently, it was creating difficulties in an effort to build strong organizations. Generally, what is happening is that generations have trouble understanding or adapting to one another.

The example used was a Gen Y preferred to do his legal research on a laptop, while the Baby-boomer felt more comfortable digging into books in the library to complete his work. Both get the work done, but differently and on a different time schedule.

The Baby boomer generation and its work style have dominated the American workplace for more than three decades and now with the Baby boomers and Traditionalist exiting the workplace X and Y are moving in with different work styles. GenX pretty much has fallen into the patterns of the past generations, but it is the GenY’s that are making the waves with their techno-savvy. This generation has created a buzz in the business community and has brought about communication difficulties among the four generations. There has been little cross-generational therefore, limited knowledge sharing in the workplace.

Harris Interactive, Inc. just completed a survey which was commissioned by Randstad North America LP. The survey based on statistically valid sample of 3,494 workers, produced the following findings:

* Retiring workers aren’t likely to transfer knowledge to newer workers and co-workers perceptions are based on generational stereotyped, particularly about GenY.

* Each generation thinks it brings self-contained strengths to the workplace and that they don’t enhance the strengths of other generations.

* Bottom line the generations aren’t talking.

How do the groups see themselves?

* GenY sees the importance of making personal friends at the workplace. They are very sociable and think out of the box. They see themselves as very open to new ideas and are very friendly. Not on a set schedule.

* GenX see themselves as confident, competent and willing to take responsibility as well as put the extra time in to get the job done. They are very ethical.

* Boomers most often see themselves as competent, having a strong work ethic, ethical and have the ability to handle a crisis. They take responsibility and have excellent communication skills.

* Traditionalists align themselves with strong work ethic, ethical and are committed to the company. They also see themselves as competent and confident.

The interesting part of this evaluation is that the Gen Y was just as hard on themselves when they evaluated their work ethic and business acumen as the older generations were in down grading their work behaviors. The Gen Y’s are changing the face of the workplace and global business. The big factor lies with how they view business. This is view as one of the biggest changes since the women entered the workplace during the Second World War.

They challenge the status quo. They chose to look for more from their work life and do not accept the tried and true principals and practices. They are not staying in one place and waiting to become promoted. They want training and advancement now or they move on. They are looking for clear and direct communication with their managers. They want a two way conversation with no spin. They are motivated when they feel appreciated and engaged. They are looking for individual awards and incentive programs.

They do not see the need to confined environments and are on line and can work from anywhere at anytime. They are not so eager to maintain rigid hours and as long as they can get the job done do it on their time. This new way of doing business of course is raising havoc with the older generations, however, with the older generations moving on, you can bet that the future of work will be molded by the GenY’s.

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