Technological advances are often cited as the most important reasons for change. But there are also rarely discussed social factors fueling it as well.
That’s the opinion of father-daughter team Larry and Meagan Johnson, Phoenix, Ariz.-based workplace training experts and authors of Generations, Inc.: From Boomers to Linksters – Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work .
Historically, the workplace consisted of two groups: the old-timers and the know-it-all, young hotshots. “The old-timers were the traditionalists, about-to-retire, stuck-in-the-past old-schoolers; the youngsters were the big-idea interlopers destined to climb the management ladder,” Larry explains.
Today, the workplace mix is a lot more complicated, according to the Johnsons. For the first time in history, there are five generations working side by side: the traditional generation (born pre-1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1980), Generation Y (1981-1995), and the linkster generation (born after 1995).
The Johnsons report that each generation has been influenced by the major historical events, social trends, and cultural phenomena of its time. These forces shape ideas about everything from expectations and perceptions about what the workplace will provide and how employees should behave, to company loyalty and work ethic.
Generational characteristics identified
After studying generational characteristics of the five major working generations, the Johnsons identified distinct generational characteristics that impact work styles, team behavior, and communication styles. By understanding the differences between generational groups, conflicts can be avoided, they say.
The father-daughter team explains generational differences as follows:
Traditionals: Born before 1945, “The Depression Babies.” Influenced by the Great Depression and World War II. Traits: Loyal, respectful of authority, stubbornly independent, excellent work ethic, dependable, and have advanced communication and interpersonal skills.
Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964, “The Woodstock Generation.” Influenced by the Vietnam War, the ’60s, and postwar social change. Traits: Well-educated, question authority, excellent teamwork skills, and thrive on adrenaline-charged assignments.
Generation X: Born 1965-1980, “The Latchkey Generation.” Products of divorced parents. Traits: Independent, family-focused, intolerant of bureaucracy, critical, hardworking, and socially responsible.
Generation Y: Born 1981-1995. “The Entitled Generation.” Influenced by technology and doting parents. Traits: Highly socialized, loyal, technologically savvy, socially responsible, and require work-life balance.
Linksters: Born after 1995. “The Facebook Crowd.” Influenced by a media-saturated world. Traits: Technologically dependent, closely tied to parents, tolerant of alternative lifestyles, involved in green causes and social activism.
How to resolve intergenerational conflicts
How do you work with or manage the different generational group? The Johnsons offer the following six tips:
1. Understand work styles. Traditionals and baby boomers don’t like to be micromanaged, while Gen Y’ers and linksters crave specific, detailed instructions about how to do things and are used to hovering authorities.
2. Consider generational values. Each generation is protecting a distinct set of values, and conflict may threaten these values. For example, baby boomers value teamwork, cooperation, and buy-in, while Gen X’ers prefer to make a unilateral decision and move on—preferably solo.
3. Share perceptions. When employees of two or more generations are involved in a workplace conflict, they can learn a great deal by sharing their perceptions. A traditional may find the lack of formality and manners of a Gen Y’er offensive, while a Gen Y’er may feel “dissed” when this older employee fails to respect his or her opinions and input.
4. Find a generationally appropriate fix. You can’t change people’s life experiences, but you can work with the set of workplace attitudes and expectations that result. If there is a knowledgeable boomer who is frustrated by the lack of experience of a Gen Y’er, coupled with his or her sense of entitlement, turn the boomer into a mentor.
5. Find commonality. Traditionals and Gen Y employees tend to value security and stability. Traditionals and boomers resist change. But both crave training and development. Gen X and Gen Y employees place a high value on workplace flexibility and work-life balance. Boomers and linksters are most comfortable with diversity and alternative lifestyles. Gen Y and linksters are technologically adept and committed to socially responsible policies.
6. Learn from each other. Each generation has valuable lessons to teach the next. Traditionals and boomers have a wealth of knowledge and tricks of the trade that younger workers need. Generation X employees are widely known for their fairness and mediation abilities. Generation Y workers are technology wizards. And Linksters hold clues to future workplace, marketing, and business trends.