Article 1: Leading a Multi-generational Workforce

Think your work colleagues are from another planet? It could be due to the generation gap. ‘Bridging the Generation Gap’ is a five part series which looks at how the different generations behave in the workplace, with particular emphasis on Generation X and Generation Y.

We are all different; understanding and dealing with those differences is a critical aspect of effective management. It helps to know that the different generations in today’s workplace share many similar characteristics. If you understand what makes each generation ‘tick’ it can make hiring and training staff a lot easier.

Let’s start with an overview of the three generations who make up the vast majority of today’s workforce and identify some of their key characteristics:

  • Baby Boomers: those born between 1946 and 1964. This generation has witnessed many changes in the workplace, including layoffs and large-scale mergers. Baby Boomers have a strong work ethic; success is achieved by spending long hours at their desk. They also tend to be loyal to their company.
  • Generation X: those born between 1965 and 1977. This generation makes up a large part of today’s middle management. Generation X was the least supervised generation whilst growing up; they were entertained by computers, video games and TV. Because of this they readily embrace change. Equally they can be a little skeptical with an ‘Actions speak louder than words’ attitude. Their loyalty tends towards individuals rather than corporations.
  • Generation Y: those born between 1977 and 1995. As the youngest group they mostly fill entry level positions. In contrast to Generation X this group was highly supervised whilst growing up. Their parents scheduled every moment of their lives and this has an impact in the workplace today. So does the fact that they grew up with all types of technology at hand.

Mixing these generations in the workplace leads to some surprising results. Inevitably there can be some disconnect between the generations because they are so different. Interestingly the biggest conflict isn’t between the oldest and youngest groups. The largest conflict is actually between Generation X and Generation Y. This is due to the contrasting methods of parenting these two generations received. As Baby Boomers retire the need to manage this conflict will increase.

Recognising these differences and how they play out in the workplace is the first step. Then comes knowing how to deal with those differences. This will be covered in future articles. Look out for Article 2 in the Generation Gaps series which takes a closer look at what makes Generation X ‘tick’.