Okay let’s be honest, if you were born after 1964 you have silently thought to yourself, “Die Boomer Die?” or at least “Please take your butt to Sarasota and retire.” There are currently five generations that make up our society. Each of these generations has an active role in the marketplace. Depending on the specific workplace, the workforce could include four to five generations.
- The Teen/20 year olds iGen, Gen Z or Centennials: Born 1996 and later
- The 20/30 year olds Millennials: Born 1977 to 1995
- The 40/50 year olds Generation X: Born 1965 to 1976
- The 50/70 year olds Baby Boomers: Born 1946 to 1964
- Traditionalists or Silent Generation: Born 1945 and before
First of all as a proud member of Generation X, I would like to say, “We got the shaft.” We are smack dab in the middle of old folks that barely know how to use Twitter and young folks that won’t stay off Snap Chat. Meanwhile, we had to learn how to use the payphone, the 45lb cell phone, and the iPhone in our almost ½ century of existing on this earth. For God’s sake, we grew up on Hee-Haw, General Hospital, Lawrence Welk, and MTV. What other generation could have successfully navigated both the creation of The Real World and the World Wide Web? But I digress. We are working in environments with three or four very different worldviews or should I say work-views. In one office you can have people who are grandparents, parents, children, and maybe even great-grandparents all trying to co-exist.
How do you manage a workplace with complex cultural dynamics related to generational paradigms?
Communicate. Each generation has gifts it can share. The boomers have a wealth of experience. Millennials have that youthful optimism and they know how to use technology to get things done. Generation X is great at bridging the gap of change, and can help shorten the cultural divide between the older and younger generations. One tool to foster communication is developing inter-generational mentorship programs to help the different generations learn new skills from each other.
Evolve and focus on what really matters. Millennials have a tendency to ask why and not just blindly follow the institutional paradigm. What is wrong with that? When did we stop valuing creativity and innovation? You still want the 45lb brick cell phone you had to carry in a suitcase or do you love your iPhone. If you answered, “I love the 45lb cell phone.” I want you to call up Southwest Airlines right now on your rotary phone and book a trip to Sarasota. Why should someone work 40 hours in a cubicle when they can do the same work in 20 hours sitting in a coffee shop? Why do they need to drive 45 minutes to work for a 45 minute meeting when they can video conference in? Yeah millennial, you probably still need to dress appropriately. We often complain that millennials are lazy and that they don’t respect protocol. Maybe our protocol is dumb. I remember when it took almost two hours to cook potpies in an oven. You had to wait for the oven to heat up. You had to poke holes in the crust, and then you had to cook the pie for another hour. The pie never came out evenly cooked. The crust would be charred on one side and flat on the other. Now, 6 minutes in the microwave, I get a perfect pot pie. Thank you innovation. Sometimes the results are better than the process. You have to ask yourself when it makes sense to do things differently. The microwave approach works well with many things, but for quality baking, not so much. Do your research before shouting down the why questions. You might just get yourself a better solution than blindly honoring the status quo. Let the millennials ask.
Second-hand yoga never killed anyone!
Eliminate barriers. Facilitate communication and collaboration. Physical barriers in the work place create emotional barriers and can hinder workplace productivity. How is your office laid out? Is the boss hidden away behind a big oak door and oak desk? As a Gen X, many of us grew up as latch-key kids. We grew up working independently, making things happen as both of our parents joined the work force. Boomers grew up in a time when things were more regimented. You followed the system and did what you were told. It was yes sir, yes, ma’am. Younger generations grew up in a curated and collaborative environment. They are always connected via technology to something or someone. What makes us think they will be successful if we try to cut that cord for 40 hours a week? We say, “Get in this box and be productive.” [Insert sad face emoji here] Yeah, that sounds like a wise leader in tune with the needs of his or her workforce.
Understand the needs of your employees. Okay this statement has some of you rolling your eyeballs, but there is nothing wrong with accommodating employees, if it leads to retention and increased productivity. Incentives and accommodations are nothing new to the workplace. There is a passage in the Christian bible that says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” (Deuteronomy 25:4). Very simply this biblical and practical law is acknowledging that even a simple animal deserves to partake in some of his own labor, meaning the farmer should allow the animal to eat from part of its working. We should treat all our workers fairly and not deprive them of the wages or work benefits that they deserve and need. I understand that each employee can’t operate independently and we can’t have a separate benefit package for each person, but generational accommodations are acceptable considerations. We take into consideration other aspects of culture such as race, gender, and religion. Why not generational culture? Remember when people used to get smoke breaks? In many settings that was the norm; now it seems outrageous. Thinking back to some of those accommodations, a yoga room in the workplace doesn’t seem too bad. Second-hand yoga never killed anyone.
Bottomline with any cultural shift we have to change our mindset in order to adapt and move forward in productive ways that pull together the best of who we are individually and transforms our organizations into thriving and cutting edge industry leaders. Oh by the way boomers, I don’t really want you to die, just get off my corporate lawn. [Insert smiley face emoji here]
Image compliments of Human Resources MBA Degree Guide
No, I did not forget to insert the actual emojis :-)