You want to set up a meeting for your diverse, multigenerational work team. Should you leave a voice mail, send an e-mail, or text everyone? You may want to do all three. Research shows that there are wide differences among how Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Yers communicate. It used to be that a "generation" spanned 25 years. Not anymore. For the first time in our country's history, there are up to three generations working together. That means businesses are faced with managing employees with several different values and work styles at the same time.
Baby Boomers, people born during and at the end of World War II through 1964, were the first to feel it is their right to direct and control their own lives rather than to follow in their parents' (the "traditionalists") footsteps. The first generation to go to college in numbers, boomers fought to improve civil and women's rights. In business they embrace a strong work ethic, expect younger workers to "earn their way up the corporate ladder," and generally would rather see recognition in their paychecks than in the form of a "thank you."
Generation Xers, people born between 1964 and 1985, tend to be self-sufficient, skeptical and independent. They grew up with the idea that a college degree was more of a birthright than a privilege and when women were in the work force in numbers. These workers think nothing of leaving one job for another that will advance their career. In fact, Generation Xers are very entrepreneurial and many have started their own businesses.
Generation Yers, people born between 1985 and 2005, are the youngest workers. They were the most supervised kids in U.S. history. Many of them had "helicopter parents" who hovered over and watched their every move. This generation wants to be recognized and respected at work even if their experience is limited. They are the most technology savvy. They want to be part of the decisionmaking process, and expect to be included so that they can contribute their views and ideas.
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How to make the most of the talents and skills these three very different groups bring to the workplace? Here are some examples.
A Generation Xer in her 30s had these observations: "When I went to work it was a given that I would have older superiors. I quickly noticed that the boomers expected me to prove myself before they would give me the respect I believed I deserved. I may have chafed and complained privately, but at work I tried to be cordial and show my worth by the quality of what I did. After one or two projects it worked. I was considered one of the group and my abilities were recognized."
A Generation Yer says: "Technology gives us wonderful, time-saving tools. I like to work as part of a team but I'm not crazy about meetings. Skyping and texting make sense. Yet, the Xers and Boomers complain that I don't have the 'social skills' I need."
A Boomer manager explains how she works with her multigenerational team: "At first I made a lot of typical Boomer mistakes assuming everyone thought like I did and had my work values. I soon learned that Generation Y and X employees value their free time as much as they value making money. I also noticed that they want to be noticed. Daily feedback and recognition are necessary." She added that because so many of the Yers base their relationships on technological communication, they lack the social skills necessary to succeed in a diverse work environment.
Her solution? Weekly e-mail messages to inform the group about what is going on, a Web site and a blog they can access and leave comments or complaints on in confidence. "I encourage and coach. I even counsel on topics like conflict resolution and try to build trust among the group and between me and the individual members."
Marie Stempinski is the founder and president of Strategic Communication in St. Petersburg. She specializes in marketing, public relations and business and career trends consulting. She also leads workshops. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.