Generations at Work – Strengthen your team by understanding how age groups differ

Most workplaces are multigenerational, which is a good thing. In any office setting you may see recent college grads mixing it up with those twice their age. While this office diversity can make for a great team, it’s important to understand the different perspectives of these age groups.  Each generation looks at the world a little differently, and these perspectives can sometimes lead to conflict among a team.  Understanding what motivates each age group can help prevent conflict and improve your organization’s health.

Generations at workPeople tend to inherit some of traits of the generation with which they grew up. For example, I’m a Boomer and love having goals (at least I love to set them). Besides the year you were born and the generation you might be placed, there are lots of other factors that influence who you are. For example, ethnicity, cultural traditions, and education can also influence work habits.  While everyone seldom takes on all the typical traits of their age group, it’s a good foundation to have when looking at the dynamics of your team.

Here is the list of different generations and the typical characteristics associated with them –

Traditionalists (68 – 86 years old, born between 1925 to 1945)Traditionalists tend to be loyal, submissive, deferring to hierarchy, conflict-averse, tend to learn from the past, resistant to change, and love paper.

Baby Boomers (49 – 67, 1946 to 1964) Boomers enjoy hard work and long hours, possess a strong work ethic, demonstrate a commitment to the place of work, are goal-oriented, competitive,  believe in the hierarchy of management, are profit motivated, and like paper but moving towards the digital realm reluctantly.

Generation X (33 – 48, 1965 to 1980) – Xers take an individualistic “hands-off” approach to work, are technologically adept, flexible, want to build their career on their own terms, adapt well to change, value a work/life balance, and are learning to live without paper.

Generation Y (13 – 32, 1981 to 2000) – Y’s are plugged in and  connected, are family centered, enjoy flexible schedules, are achievement-oriented, mission driven, are quick learners, often state that they need to be in the know, are usually team-oriented, and only want to use paper in the bathroom.

Recently I heard a presentation by Brian Halligan, CEO of growing internet marketing company HubSpot. He mentioned that he was catering to his Gen Y’s by doing away with all the offices and cubicles and structured the office as an open floor plan.  This generation craves to be connected to highly motivated and smart people on a mission. My first reaction was “Oh no, give up my office?” But after I thought about it I realized that made total sense for his team, and it sounded awesome.

Some typical conflicts between Boomers and Gen Ys:

Boomers Gen Y
“Isn’t it a bit early to leave work? It’s not even 5:00.” “I will finish up what I was doing after I put the kids to bed.”
“It’s against policy to go on Facebook during work hours.” “Just saw a tweet that our competitors landed that account.”
“We can’t have everyone going part-time.” “Sorry, family first and work second.”
“Not everything can be done by committee.” “A bunch of us met at the café and pounded out the proposal.”
“The CEO will be reporting on the progress of our strategic plan quarterly this year.” “I want to know what he had for breakfast.”

Motivators are different for these generations as well –

Boomers Gen Ys
“If we hit our numbers there will be bonuses at the end of the year. “ “It would be great if I could work 2 days a week from home.”
“The corner office can be yours if you keep up the hard work.” “I’d rather be on the floor with everyone else.”
“We will crush the competition this quarter.” “How are we changing the world?”
“We want to grow you as a leader over the next 10 years.” “Once I’m done on this project in a month, I would love to jump on the next one.”

“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”
George Orwell

How do the different generations in your office interact?

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