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Managing The Generations

Oct 18, 2007
One of the most common questions I am asked by managers is "how can I manage the 'younger' generation?" It seems every second workplace is having challenges between different generations ... with differences in expectations of managers, work approach and style.

Let me start by saying that what I am about to tell you will be discussing the generalities of generations. Before you leap in and yell "stereotypes" ... listen up for a moment.

The best way I can describe this is by looking at the height of people. Some people are tall and some are short but most people fall within a certain height range or average height.

When people design furniture they look at the average height of people to determine for example the length of the seat in a chair. They base their decision about the chair seat length by looking at general data. That doesn't mean that the seat fits everyone ... for some people it will be too small and some too big but for many the fit will be just right (a bit like Goldilocks).

What you may not know is that the average height of people is changing across the generations. People today are much taller than their counterparts 50 or 100 years ago for a whole range of factors including better health and diet. The generations are physically different as a result of the circumstances they grew up in.

So too with peoples attitudes. There are differences between how generations approach work ... what motivates them, how they learn and how they prefer to be managed. There are variances with individuals in the generation ... but there are average trends you can observe.

Most workplaces have at least 3 generations of people working with them ... Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. These are all terms sociologists have used to describe certain age groupings of people.

Baby Boomers were born just after World War 2 until about 1964. That means that today this means people 45 and older. The sort of world they grew up during their formative years included events such as the Vietnam War, Woodstock, the Cold War, the Moon landing & Civil Rights Movements.

Generation X people were born between about 1964 - 1978 which means people between about 29-43 years of age. They grew up in the era of the pill, no fault divorce, the fall of Russia and the Berlin wall, USA becoming the dominant world superpower, the introduction of PCs and they watched their parents be outsourced and downsized at work.

Generation Y people were born about 1979 - 1994 which means people about 13-28 years of age. They grew up with the internet and the technology boom, they generally had extended periods of economic growth and stability and watched 9/11. They were the first generation where building self esteem was as important as building reading and maths skills and they had very busy school years being ferried from sport to dance to school to homework to school extension.

Each generation sees the world differently. Baby Boomers quite often wear the tag "workaholic" with pride. They believe in doing the hard yards to get ahead, paying ones dues and putting in the hours at your desk at work. They tend to value stability in a job - wanting to see extended periods of time in the one company. They believe with hard work they will succeed. They are loyal to the company and assess their managers based on what they see their managers demonstrate in terms of their own personal work ethic.

Generation X people are more cynical than Baby Boomers. They watched their parents put in the long hours when they were growing up, only to be made redundant. Many Gen X people vowed not to do the same ... that they wanted a life not just a job and believe in productive work time not "face time". They believe that any success is up to them.

They tend to distrust management and companies - believing there are always "hidden agendas" at play. They sign up to a manager ... not a company and want the opportunity to express their views and to be heard by their manager. They will change jobs if they are not happy.

Generation Y people are the internet generation. They are used to getting information instantly when they need it rather than holding large amounts of data in their heads. They are self confident and are not afraid to tell people what they are feeling and how a decision affects them personally.

They love to learn new things but also like taking things to conclusion. They need clear goals and objectives to work towards. They want to make a difference to society through their work. They crave constant, honest, mentoring communication with their manager and will quickly leave a company if they don't get it. They don't believe in doing the jobs no one else wants to do just because they are the youngest there.

Some Tips to Manage and Motivate the Generations:

Baby Boomers: Help them get a life ... give them loyalty ... recognise their status and seniority

Generation X: Help them boost their productivity at work ... give them flexible work options ... provide open democratic management

Generation Y: Build in regular ongoing formal learning ... give them clear goals & targets ... establish mentoring schemes
About the Author
Ingrid Cliff is a Freelance Copywriter, Business Development and Human Resources Consultant to Small and Medium Businesses. Ingrid has just published Instant HR Policies and Procedures for Small and Medium Businesses www.heartharmony.com.au
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