gladysIt sometimes feels like we focus too much on what makes us different, rather than those shared, fundamental characteristics that unite us, particularly with respect to “generational differences in the workplace.” Sometimes I wonder if, by focusing too much on those differences and labels we have created, we actually generate more problems than we solve. If not kept in check, those labels can drive a wedge even further between us. Allow me to paint you a picture. 

This is Gladys. Gladys is a manager at a factory that creates, as irony would have it, labels. You know those stickers that say “Hi, my name is”? Yeah, those things. Anyway, Gladys manages an extraordinarily diverse workforce. Ever-focused on employee morale, Gladys does a significant amount of research on generational differences in the workplace because she wants to be sensitive to the needs of her team. She reads one article in particular that straight up blows her mind. All of the research and articles she reads typically send the same message: “Baby Boomers act this way, Gen Xers act that way, and Gen Yers act the other way … treat each generation accordingly.” So Gladys begins putting the principles into practice. Soon after, the perceptive employees begin to notice a difference in the way they’re being treated. While they don’t necessarily feel that one group receives preferential treatment; there’s a noticeable difference. The end result: the team begins to separate itself into sub-groups based on the treatment they receive from Gladys. Because Gladys has perhaps over-emphasized these generational differences, she has, in fact, weakened her team.

Allow me to stop there. I am in no way encouraging you to scoff at the research and discussions regarding generational differences in the workplace. In fact, I feel that being sensitive to such differences is essential. But … all things in moderation! In order to maintain a healthy balance, I’d like to spend the rest of this article talking about generational similarities. Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Yers, that is, the entire global workforce, still have plenty in common. Is it possible that we even have more similarities than differences? I think so! I mean, we’re all still humans, right? Then let us take a look at three elements that pretty much all employees have in common, regardless of the label they wear.

We crave respect. That simple sentence packs a big punch for me. Books have been written about it; songs too! It’s safe to say that 10 out of 10 humans (young and old) agree. Granted, the reasons we want respect might vary as a result of our age. For example, Baby Boomers may want respect because they’ve earned it. They’ve been in the trenches for decades. They’ve worked their way up from the bottom to get to their current status … and that deserves respect! On the flipside, a “green” Gen Yer, despite his or her youth and inexperience, brings a fresh set of ideas and a unique perspective to the table, which is immensely valuable. Respect that! And in the middle of it all is the Gen Xer, who manages to balance experience with technological know-how. Their adaptability also deserves respect! Whatever the reason … whatever the age, a desire for respect is a wholly universal concept amongst any business team.

We crave acknowledgment. A simple pat on the back, an “atta girl,” a sudden 75% increase in salary … whatever. You know what I’m getting at here. Everyone young and old appreciates acknowledgement of a job well done. And while research may indicate that one particular generation requires acknowledgment more than another, I am of the opinion that that is precisely where a manager can get his or herself into trouble if caution is not exercised! Showering the new, young employee with compliments for successfully turning a computer on is an easy way to create tension among the team. Delivering a disproportionate stream of affirming, positive feedback to a select group of individuals because of their age all in the name of “sensitivity” seems to be a bit self-defeating to me. Why? Because you’re only going to alienate everyone else … because everyone craves acknowledgment! Everyone wants affirmation that his or her hard work and talent are vital assets to the organization. 

We crave stimulation. Yet another generation-neutral element that everyone appreciates is a work environment that fosters stimulation and enrichment, which manifests itself in a variety of ways. The most obvious manifestation is in the day-to-day work that one performs. Nobody, regardless of age, enjoys being stuck in a rut, professional or otherwise. The same routine over and over gets stale quickly for everybody. A work environment can also be stimulating when management encourages its employees’ individual and professional development. Speaking from personal experience, I feel that there is something particularly invigorating when management demonstrates its commitment to my success by providing me with a variety of enrichment opportunities. Such opportunities might include in services about work-relevant topics, or simply dedicating a specific amount of time each week that encourages research and exploration of “hot topics” in my field. The bottom line is this: a stimulating work environment is something that every employee craves!

Well, there you have it. Before I wrap this thing up, I feel compelled to restate how important it is to learn about, consider, and even celebrate the diversity of your workplace, whether that be age-related or otherwise. It is, in fact, essential for successful management. Just don’t forget how much we all share in common in the process. In the end, we’re all cut from the same cloth—so just be fair!”

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