How old are you? This is not a question we would normally be allowed to ask in a professional setting. However, the generation that we are a part of does have an impact on our work style.
This topic has been studied quite heavily in recent years. People are working longer, leading to a three-generation span of employees in the workplace. Along with the natural generational differences of experience, music style, interests and family situation, there are also specific ways that each generation approaches their work lives. These are influenced by technology and other changes in lifestyle over the years. They go beyond the typical complaints that the younger generation is lazy, incompetent or don’t care about their employers. Every generation sees this as typical of the next generation. That will probably never change.
Work style has more to do with how each generation likes to conduct their work day. For instance, baby boomers (born roughly between 1946 and 1964) think nothing of working a 60 hour week, and it’s important to them that they are “putting in the hours”. On the other hand, a Gen-Y’ers (born roughly between the years of 1978 and 2000) are more focused on getting the job done as quickly as possible. They are results-oriented. But they have a life outside of work, and they fully intend to enjoy it. Moreover, the younger generation prefers a more flexible work environment, possibly with the opportunity to work at least some hours at home, or outside of the office.
This one style alone can lead to inter-generational conflict in the work place. An older worker may resent a younger worker, whom he feels is not putting in the time that should be required.
How does each generation approach change? Baby boomers are cautious and a bit afraid of change. Generation X sees change as an opportunity. Generation Y sees change as improvement.
The point is that it’s important to understand the work style of those we work with in order to be able to get along well. Conflict and resentment of co-workers don’t help much in our efforts to be at our personal best. Understanding where someone is coming from and how to work with them will help us in our efforts to gain cooperation and respect from co-workers and supervisors.
The ability to see each person as someone who adds value to the company in their own way allows us to focus our efforts on doing everything we can to contribute to the organization’s goals and not get side-tracked by the differences in how others may choose to pursue the same goals.
Gen-X’ers and Gen-Y’ers should take advantage of the vast experience of the baby boomers to learn as much as they possibly can. Baby boomers should take advantage of the energy, enthusiasm and fresh perspective of the younger generations. Each person can increase their value to the company by embracing the generational differences, leading to a far more productive work environment.
The most common intergenerational problems concern managing and motivating others, because:
- It’s hard to motivate, coach and give assignments to someone you don’t or don’t think you understand.
- Trust is an important commodity in the work place. Competence and common understandings are important to building and maintain trust.
- We don’t work well with people we don’t trust to “do the right thing”, however we define that.