Dancing to a different beat: Working with multi-generations
Wednesday nights are burgers nights at a great downtown restaurant where my in-laws live. Niffer’s Place offers delicious half-price burgers every Wednesday night, and the place packs out rain or shine each week. Families and friends fill the place, chatter and laughter abounds, and it’s just a great night to spend time together.
A few weeks ago was my first time back in town in months, and I was excited to be spending some quality time with my in-laws by myself as my husband had already moved to China. My mother- and father-in-law and I met my little brother-in-law at Niffer’s for the Wednesday night tradition. As soon as my brother-in-law sat down at the table, he pulled out his cell phone and began texting. Now, I love my brother-in-law dearly, and I do give him a hard time. He’s recently turned 21, and he’s a Millennial through and through; he’s never parted from his cell phone, he’d rather text or send social media messages to friends than meet with them face to face, and he can’t imagine a world before the mass amounts of technology he has at his fingertips every day. Throughout the dinner, I threatened to or actually snatched his phone many times, and he continued to text, Facebook, Google and play music.
Dancing the polka in a waltz office
As I begin my classes this semester for my master’s degree in Communications Management in the Newhouse School of Public Communications Executive Education Program, my brother-in-law keeps crossing my mind. In my Strategic Management class, we are learning how working with multi-generations can bring plenty of skill to the table. Understanding what motivates multi-generational employees and how to effectively work with each unique group is important in today’s business. If we embrace these diverse groups with a willingness to learn from each, we can create a powerful workplace.
Last year, a huge controversy drew divides down the middle of the Public Relations world. You may recall that a recent University of Iowa graduate wrote a blog post entitled “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25.” Cathryn Sloane’s premise was that since her generation had grown up with social media, they were the only ones who could effectively manage these new platforms for business. Yes, the position is naïve and excluding. This debate, however, could have been an opportunity to create a helpful dialogue about how a multi-generational workforce could improve the office, but instead it became mainly a competition of which generation was best with few exceptions actually reaching out the mentoring hand.
Figuring out what each dancer brings to the party
To create a successful office among a multi-generational workforce, you need to know how each group ticks.
1. Traditionalists (Born before 1946)
“The satisfaction of a job well done.”
This group finds reward in the work itself and provides authority on a variety of business topics. They are loyal to the organization and expect a hierarchical structure. Recognition among these employees is appreciated, and a flexible work schedule is needed to attend to the cares of an expanding family.
2. Baby Boomers (Born between 1946-1964)
“Still changing the world.”
This is the revolution generation. Coming to age during a time of Vietnam War protests and Woodstock, this group looks to do great things through exciting projects that can make a difference in society. They look for promotion opportunities and are motivated by job perks.
3. Generation X (Born between 1964-1981)
“Freedom is the ultimate reward.”
In an uncertain work environment, Generation Xers seek a work/life balance. They are not company loyal but career loyal, desiring transferable retirement plans. Their flexibility is their hallmark, and they function best in relaxed work environments with open designs.
4. Generation Y/Millenials/First Globals (Born between 1981-2000)
“Work that has meaning for me.”
This tech generation is all about the tangible rewards. The more they can experience a fun environment with peers, the more productive they will be. They need to be able to relate to their bosses and are stimulated by team work. When they are allowed to help make decisions, they fulfill their need to make a difference in the workplace. Experiencing globalization at its finest, they value diversity.
Characteristics for the next generation, Generation Z born after 2000, are still being studied. With no recollection of life before the Internet, cell phones or social media, this group will add an interesting dynamic to a multi-generational workforce when it comes of age.
Though I gave my brother-in-law a hard time at dinner about his cell phone usage, later that evening he came to my immediate aid when I needed help with downloading new computer software. If we can mix and match the positive attributes from each generation while learning to accept each group’s distinctive nuances, we can greatly improve our offices to perform at peak effectiveness.
What added benefits do you recognize from multiple generations in the office?