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Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Community - July 2009

Get the Most from Multigenerational Workplaces
Generational Differences Can Be Stepping Stones, Not Barriers

A recent study by the Pew Research Center claims that the United States is experiencing its largest generation gap since the 1960s. Almost eight in ten people feel there is a major difference in the points of view of younger people and older people today. The generations disagree most on matters of social values and morality. Attitudes influence behavior and differences of behavior can have serious consequences, especially in the workplace.

According to Monster.com, there currently are four distinct generations interacting in today's workplaces, each with its own attitudes and working styles:

  • Generational differences can be stepping stones, not barriers.The Silent Generation, born between 1927 and 1945, came to age when organizations were very hierarchical: managers managed and workers worked. They believe employers deserve loyalty and rewards go to team players.
  • The Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, learned to work in a more competitive time. They are assertive, but hold ethics and values very dear. They tend to be workaholics and define themselves through work.
  • Generation X, born between 1965 and 1981, were learning their way in the workplace at the same time they were watching government and corporate leaders lying, cheating and failing. As a result, they tend to be self-protective. They distrust big business and view every job as temporary.
  • The Millennials, born after 1981, were more protected and engaged as children than the generations before them, which may make them ill-prepared to compete in a combative work environment. Their defining moment was September 11, so they tend to migrate to more "heroic" professions like health care and public safety. They want to make a difference.

Each generation has its strengths and weaknesses in the modern workplace. Successful businesses are ones that look at these differences and find ways to get the generations to not only work together but to benefit each other.

Older workers can teach their younger counterparts a thing or two about surviving adversity. Younger generations grew up with relatively plentiful options, which they usually exercise in tough situations. Older generations had fewer options, thus they are more likely to tackle adversity head-on. They believe in the long-term benefits of loyalty over quick fixes and instant gratification.

Older workers also are much better at one-on-one relationships. They can teach the "kids" a thing or two about courtesy and team play. However, they could learn to embrace diversity and balance their work and personal lives from their younger co-workers. Younger workers are more willing to take risks. They are more likely to "think outside the box" and work differently. Ironically, though, they also are less likely to act independently than older workers.

Another area with a huge disparity in generational attitudes is technology. The Pew study found that three out of four people age 18-30 went online daily, compared to just two out of five among 65-74 year-olds. The gap widened when they looked at mobile technology. The younger cohort was more than ten times more likely to use a cell phone for all or most of their calls and eight times more likely to send or receive text messages.

If a younger worker is given a new piece of technology, chances are he already knows how to use it. If he doesn't, he's willing - or even excited - to learn how. Older workers tend to resist technology. But, having younger workers around them using gadgets and widgets and being successful will eventually encourage some older workers to find out what the excitement is about.

As these generational differences play out in the workplaces, businesses are changing the way they do business. A report by RainmakerThinking indicated that, as a way to better leverage the skills and attitudes of multiple generations or workers, the employer-worker relationship is becoming more project-based and less reliant on the chain-of-command structure. This is allowing them to be more flexible and make the most of their multigenerational workforces.