Management Matters: is a New Article series dealing with the issues that arise when managing personnel and how to optimize your current staff in a company.
Managing and Understanding the Workplace Generation Gaps
November 1st, 2010
When people first think about diversity in the workplace, issues of race, religion, and gender generally come to mind. For the first time in history, there will be another dimension of diversity that both employers and employees will have to deal with. This issue is the ever-increasing generation gap in the workplace. The idea that there will be, in many cases, four different generations in the workplace at the same time is a challenge currently facing many employers. The differences in these generations can affect the workplace in multiple ways if the manager does not know how to respond to this issue. These gaps in generations will force managers to become even more resourceful in the ways they run their businesses. The differences in peoples’ work ethics generally stem from how, when, and where they were raised and what type of environment they grew up in.
For example, the generations who were brought up during times of war and political strife tend to think and act differently than those who were raised in peaceful times. People growing up in different eras usually have differing morals and values. These are a couple of the reasons why employers struggle to mange their employees in an effective manner. Generational gaps are also a result of the rocky economy and the fact that people are working longer. These financial pressures, which were spawned by the most recent recession, are forcing many postponed retirements. This is one of the central causes as to why there are four different generations working for the same companies around the United States today.
Bridging these Generational Gaps
The Veterans, a cohort born right before and during World War II is the oldest generation currently employed. Many of these employees were brought up in a time of war. This is extremely relevant because the Veterans generation was raised in a very selfless and patriotic manner. They were taught not to waste anything and to put the war efforts at the forefront of their lives. As many people know from United States history, all hands were on deck on the home front during this time. Everyone but the people off fighting the war in both the Pacific and Eastern theaters were working and producing specifically for the war efforts. This was also an era when many women began working outside the home. Overall, the Veterans generation created a more comfortable nest for the generation to follow.
The Baby Boomers are the second oldest and the largest generation still at work today. This “post-war prosperity generation” was raised in an era of both affluence and optimism. This cohort grew up in the “safest” of environments, meaning two-parent households and job security. The Baby Boomers were taught patience and respect, which they bring with them to the workplace today. Similarly to the Veterans generation, the Baby Boomers sent even more women into the job market. This was mainly because society was better educating them, thus making them more independent than they had ever been before.
Generation Xers were born between the 1960s and 1980s, which was a time the United States faced a changing world and economic recession. Unlike the Baby Boomers, the Xers tend to be extremely independent and strive to be in control, especially in the workplace. This is the case because Generation Xers grew up in a competitive time where, for the most part, dependent people had an extremely difficult time succeeding. The job market at this time was very competitive, especially because of the increase in potential employees from the previous generation. The Xers were also brought up in opposite family situations than the typical “nuclear family” of the Baby Boom era. They faced issues like divorced parents and two-career families, which contributed to their necessary competitive edge. The Xers worked hard and did what they needed to do in order to survive. They were not just handed jobs and success.
The Millennials, or Nexters (known to some as Generation Y), represent the generation born of Baby Boomer parents and is the youngest cohort in today’s changing workplace. This generation is also the most technologically advanced, especially with the large increase in social networking. Because of this boom in technology, the Millennials, or Nexters, are fast learners. The technological take-off has also caused this generation to be very impatient. This impatience demonstrated by the Nexters creates a more demanding nature and need for getting what they want in a timely matter.
Managing These Generations in the Workplace
Chris Michalak, a human resources consultant for Towers Perrin, exemplifies this generational gap within the workplace best when he states in a CNBC article how “Baby Boomers live to work and Generation Xers work to live.” These generations have entirely different work ethics, which contributes to the difficulty employers have in managing their offices. The first step in teaching managers how to handle these generation gaps is educating them on what is going to happen with this issue in the next few years. It is also important to teach managers about these generations and the differences that they may encounter when managing their employees as a team. More importantly, managers need to work with the individual and not the group as a whole. Like Johnna Torsone, chief human resources officer stated, “It’s just good management to understand what makes an individual tick.” This will effectively reach out to each generation, which will, in turn, generate a more successful business. Being prepared for these differences in personalities, morals, and values is the key to managing all generations.