Traversing the Generational Universe of Workers

If we could take a trip in a time machine, or the infamous time-hopping DeLorean, and revisit the past generations of the workforce, what would we discover?

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First, let’s start with the time period between 1900-1945 – the era of the Traditionalist generation.

With influences from WWII and the Korean War, the rise of the industrial revolution and being raised by parents who suffered through the Great Depression, these tough, no-nonsense and hardworking participants in the workforce, had the strictest of work ethic, loyalty, and discipline. Getting an education was viewed as an unobtainable dream. Their contributions to work and society were for the good of the whole and work was seen as an obligation. During this era, management ideals consisted of direct, concise, authoritative command of task assignments and Traditionalists appreciated and respected authority without question.

Baby Boomers

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Next, we arrive at the Baby Boomers. Often thought as the generation of “Me,” as their key interests are of money, title, and recognition. These diehards live to work and thrive on achieving the American dream, 50-60 hours a week (if not more).

Baby Boomers were born in the post-Vietnam and Civil Rights era, growing up to be 70’s hippies and activists and the 80’s yuppie generation. An education during this era was thought of as a birthright, making these folks some of the most educated of all four generations.

Baby Boomers were the first generation to begin questioning authority and convention believing in equal opportunity and advancement of career through hard work and dedication. Competitive in their rise for success, the Baby Boomers live to work rather than work to live. As workaholics, sometimes work came before family and loss of balance in work/life resulted.

Generation X

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Enter Generation X – complex and often misunderstood individuals, seemingly angry with the world and authority that pushed them into a mosh pit of rebellion. Yet, why were they so angry? Maybe it was all that 90’s grunge music.

These were the first of the latchkey kids where both parents worked and left them to develop their own independence. Growing up on MTV, Atari, and the ushering in of the PC, they grew adaptable to change and technology. As they matured, that independence made them resourceful and motivated to become entrepreneurs seeking a more global reach with work portability. Remember the rise of the .com market? Because of their entrepreneurial business sense and technical savvy, they were highly marketable and often hard to retain in the workplace for any extensive length of employment as they jumped from opportunity to opportunity.

Millennials

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Now, let’s jump back to the future. A new generation has entered the workforce – the Millennials. This new crop of employees have hope in a brighter future and saving the world, one gigabyte at a time. Millennials are the most tech savvy of all generations having practically been born with a hand-held device attached to them. Going online where communication, knowledge, and challenge is right at their fingertips, the focus of change in their world relies highly on the use of technology and creativity. These highly sociable, diverse, and competitive workers are just now entering our workforce, and many thrive on personal attention. As they are seemingly self-absorbed, living their lives in every social media realm, whether that be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat, just to name a few, they still feel a need to please others and contribute to society. They want to make a difference in their work environment, but need the technical flexibility to perform daily tasks. Their technical savvy makes them highly marketable and greatly needed in the workplace as technology is ever-evolving. And, while they are technically highly skilled, many of these young workers need constant guidance and attention to obtain the work ethic and professionalism needed to succeed. Millennials may require constant feedback in their never-ending quest for knowledge. However, keep in mind, they may tend to get bored easily and if not challenged, and they will look for greener pastures. Because of this, employers may find it a challenge to retain them.

So, what can we learn from our knowledge of these vast generational differences and how can we bridge the gaps?

Here are a few ideas to help close generational gaps and hopefully keep all generations happy and engaged:

Traditionalists: (if still in the workforce)

  • Engage them as experiential coaches, teachers, and mentors. They will be helpful in facilitating the virtues of hard work, respect, and ethical behavior.

Baby Boomers:

  • Offer them flexibility to help them to avoid “burnout” from their workaholic mentality.
  • Encourage them to become mentors of work ethic and professionalism to the newer generations, while at the same time cross-training to gain new experience in technology.
  • Always show appreciation for their hard work, loyalty, and commitment to the company.

Generation X:

  • Challenge them to become coaches to the Millennials. (Generation X realizes that Millennials seem to need hand-holding at times)
  • Give them feedback and credit for their results and goal achievements.
  • Keep them relevant by pushing them to learn new tasks and technologies.
  • Allow them to be innovative problem-solvers.

Millennials:

  • Provide Millennials a casual, fun, and nonjudgmental environment.
  • Engage them with technology: mobile learning and gamification – things they can relate to and remain interactive.
  • Identify their capabilities and challenge them to be creative and innovative.
  • Provide flexibility to work remotely using their technical devices, when feasible.
  • Get them involved with media and global marketing strategies using their social and technological media experience.
  • Treat them with same respect as other generational employees, despite age differences. They need to feel professional and that they are making a difference.

These are just a few observations across the universe of workplace time travel. I hope some of these recommendations spark new ideas for bridging the gaps. Time keeps marching on, and new eras bring new challenges. The key is working together to bridge the gaps and create workplace harmony and sustainability. 

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