Today’s youth entering the job market are experiencing something that their predecessors did not — four generations participating in the workforce. There has never been so much age diversity together in the workplace at once. This situation creates challenges for each of the generations with their unique perspectives. This biggest hurdle: communication.
Each age group learned and honed their communication skills based on the values of their era, culture and peers. This can lead to misunderstandings and false biases on everybody’s part. How many times have people heard the phrase “Kids, today, they just don’t care” with a dismissive wave of the hand from a senior citizen? Or comments that “old people should just move aside and retire already” from a young person just entering the workforce.
Everyone needs to realize that each generation communicates differently. Therefore, it is crucial for someone new to the working world to identify these differences in order to land the job and survive in the workplace. While there is no doubt that you have many talents and experiences that are valuable to the company, they will never be able to identify these talents if they don’t understand you. Your ability to remain employed and earn bonuses, raises and promotions depend on it.
The newest generation to join the workforce is the Millennial generation (aka “Generation
Y”/ “Generation Next”/“Nintendo Generation”/”Nexters”). In general, they grew up with structured social activities (i.e. daycare, camps, after school programs). They are technically savvy, great collaborators, and thrive on freedom, instant communication and positive feedback. Their parents raised them with an “everybody gets a trophy” philosophy. They can have an elevated sense of entitlement and seeing themselves as special. Their use of texting and instant media access makes them feel easily impatient with rules, procedures and “paying dues”.
Contrast that profile with the eldest generation is known as the Traditionalists – those who
were born prior to 1946. Unexpectedly, they now remain in the workforce because either their inability to survive on pensions due to inflated costs and/or they need to remain active due to the increase in life span. While people may have considered the age of 70 to be a long life 50 years ago, the advancement of medicine and healthy living makes 70 seem not so old (well, to most of us over the age of 35). This generation is characterized as hard working, loyal, thrifty, eager to conform and willing to sacrifice for the company. They will
work long hours to demonstrate their loyalty to the company. They have little patience for people who aren’t as dedicated and structured.
In between come the Baby Boomers. Born between 1946 and 1964, the Boomers areknown to be competitive, moralistic, optimistic and self-focused. They were raised in the suburbs and were the first generation to have television in their homes. They tend to be workaholics and associate success with materialism.
Lastly, the Generation X’ers, born between 1964 and 1980, are more independent and value a work-life balance. They have a strong distrust in companies and see themselves as free agents. They are as loyal to a company as the company is to them which in today’s corporate culture, not very loyal.
So what does this mean for teens and new graduates (Millennials) entering the workforce for the first time? Clearly, for career success, it is in their best interest to appeal to as many co-workers as possible despite of generational gap. So, once they recognize these differences, they can adapt their communication methods accordingly. They need to tailor their style and message to speak the generational language, i.e. focus on what’s important to the listener in terms of buzzwords and values.
For example, Traditionalists value loyalty, a sense of duty and structure. They are motivated by a job well done. The majority do not embrace the newest technology with ease especially when it comes to communication. They are comfortable with face-to-face interaction so don’t expect email, SMS or texts to win them over regardless of your writing skills. Their frustrations include youth who think “they know it all”. So keeping this in mind, you don’t want to pepper your discussion with techspeak and badmouthing of management or the company. For example, Millennails should always try to appear interested in past experiences of the Traditionalists. (“Appear” is used because sometimes co-workers aren’t interested in stories of how things were better before computers – aka the “good old days”.) Make them feel valued and included by using comments like: “It’s important for the rest of us to hear what has, and hasn’t, worked in the past.” Traditionalists pride themselves on their past contributions so showing them respect for that is crucial to breaking down the communication barriers.
Baby Boomers, especially the older ones, live to work and are more focused on materialistic rewards as motivation and signs of success. They prefer face-to-face or the telephone as forms of communication but will tolerate technology as a “necessary evil”. They respond positively when reassured that their input is crucial to the success of the project. You can make them feel valued with statements similar to: “We recognize your unique and important contribution to our team.” If you approach them with a lack of effort or ambition, they will shut you out.
Gen-Xers have far different perspectives that the previous two groups. While Traditionalists feel it is their duty to work and Boomers live to work, Gen-Xers work to live. Their lifestyle is what they value. They are about instant gratification so they prefer emails, SMS and texting as their communication style. They aren’t about to wait for an annual performance review. They need frequent feedback on their performance. They do not take kindly to a “because I said so” mentality. A Gen-Xer would be motivated by appealing to their sense of freedom and individuality – “Do it your way.”
Remember this is a high-level generalization so it is possible that there will be some traditionalists who enjoy new technology and some Boomers who aren’t great collaborators. However, if you keep some of these differences in mind and try to apply them in the workplace, you are guaranteed to be more successful in your meetings, working relationships and even job interviews.
This topic and other workplace experiences are discussed in further detail in “Playstation to Workstation: A Career Guide for Generation Text Surviving in a Baby Boomer World” available at www.potentialtosoar.com or Amazon.