A special thanks to Jaime Taets, CEO of Keystone Group International, for submitting this blog to our team! You can connect with Jaime on LinkedIn here.
“Boomers are uncomfortable with technology and have no idea how to use the internet to increase efficiency. They only want to do it how they’ve always done it. They are oblivious to how the internet and social media could accomplish more faster.”
“Millennials feel entitled and expect constant attention. They want a promotion two weeks after they start. And they won’t pay their dues or put in the level of effort it takes.”
“Gen Xers are such job-hoppers. They get bored and suddenly jump ship. They have no idea what company loyalty is. All they think about is themselves and their career ambitions”
These are all comments that we hear relative to how one generation looks at the unique attributes of another generation. Just like in society, when someone looks, believes, or acts differently than us, we make assumptions and judgements. The same assumptions and judgements are happening every day in your organization related to the Generational Divide. So how can organizations bridge that divide and create a workplace that is inclusive and takes advantage of the strengths that each generation, and each human brings to the table?
Truly fix a problem I believe that we need to understand it first. And when I speak and train on the generational divide, I am surprised by how many people take the generational differences at face value and don’t really dig in to understand why those differences are there.
Boomers who are looked at as inflexible or stubborn and set in their ways are really living out the values that were created when they were in their formative years.
Some of their parents or grandparents lived through the Great Depression and the Boomers themselves were born shortly after the end of WWII. What they have experienced in their lives has impacted beliefs that they carry into their personal and professional lives. They have beliefs around professional accomplishments, job security and loyalty, working hard and you will be rewarded. There’s nothing wrong with those beliefs, except that the world has changed and some of those beliefs are not as important in the new business climate.
Or take the Millennials. This generation was deemed the decade of the child. It was the generation where everyone got a participation trophy for their contribution, information was instantly available to them, and they had exposure to a lot of information at early ages. They saw their parents strive for wealth and success and they determined those were the things they wanted – they want to “have it all” and they “deserve the best”. This generation is super family-focused and therefore wants to ensure their work environment balances their personal lives. They want to be included and want constant feedback and validation about how they are doing.
I could go on for pages about the historical events that shaped each of these generations and the jokes and memes that we use to stereotype each generation, but I won’t. Why? Because underneath all our life experiences, our beliefs and our judgements, each of us is human first. We all have basic human needs, things like certainty, significance, love, connection. It doesn’t matter what generation we come from; we need these things.
So, when exasperated leaders ask me how to manage across generations my response to them is always the same. First, seek to understand because when we understand how someone’s background, no matter what their age or generation, we soften the edges of our own judgement. We can start to see the situation through their eyes and connect with them on a deeper level. Second, ask different questions. Instead of asking the same type of questions and expecting something different, start asking different questions that cause people to think differently, to examine their own beliefs about a situation.
Being a good leader doesn’t mean to have to be an expert on each generation or admit to fully understanding why each generation is the way they are. Good leaders get to know the needs of each individual and authentically engage and motivate them based on their own unique needs.
Leadership is relatively simple in concept but not easy to do. But putting in the effort to improve your leadership skills will be an ROI that is always strong.