The fact that many people are working well past the traditional retirement age of 65 means that your workplace probably has workers from 3 different generations: the baby boomers, Gen X, and of course the millenials. While millenials are by far the largest generational group in the workforce (it is estimated that by 2015 over half the workforce will be populated by millenials), it is important to remember that they are not the only age group at work. In theory, this is exciting. Including the experience of someone who has been working for 40 years on your team should bring valuable insight to your industry and company. However, the more probable scenario is that your multi-generational workplace is full of more gripes and disagreements than mentoring and camaraderie. Understanding some general ways that different generations tend to think abo ut work and life can help you manage these different generations better so that you can get back to working as a team.
The oldest generation in your workplace is the baby boomers, those men and women who were born between 1946 and 1964. They are generally used to being competitive with their co-workers. They had to work hard to earn their positions, and believe their much younger co-workers and managers should do the same. They are much more likely to have stayed with one company for decades, and are therefore discouraged when a young manager comes along who is new to the company. Many baby boomers are working well into their 70’s thanks to advances in health care that are allowing them to continue working. Some of them need the paycheck because they just can’t afford to retire yet. Many see the newest generation of workers as entitled and flighty, and feel devalued in comparison to a 30 year old manager who hasn’t put in nearly as much time and work into the company. Acknowledging the merit and value of your baby boomers can go a long way to making them feel comfortable in their wor k setting.
Gen-X refers to those men and women who were born from 1965-1977. They are more independent than the baby boomers. They came into the workforce during a time of advancing technology and are considered to be the best team players among the three generations according to a recent study. This is the generation that is literally caught in the middle of the workplace generation gap, and may be the most overwhelmed when it comes to keeping the peace.
The last and most prominent group is the millenials, also referred to as Gen-Y. These men and women were born after 1977, and are the most tech-savvy and independent minded group in the workforce. They appreciate technology and use it to multi-task. They also are more open about their expectations, including constructive feedback from the older generations in the workplace. Millenials as a group are the most likely to be enthusiastic about mentorship programs that partner them with someone from an older generation group.
Simply knowing these general qualities may offer some insight into why certain employees act the way they do. Putting the different generations in situations where they can interact can be a great way to get different perspectives on a task or project. Just because there are great age gaps in your employees doesn’t mean that they can’t work together to create a great company.