Diversity has become something to be celebrated and is a necessity for success in today’s working world. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of diversity? Culture? Gender? What about age? Many workplaces now have upwards of four different generations working together. As we start a new decade, use this as an opportunity to look at the make-up of your company, and evaluate how you interact with your employees from different generations.
Many articles pertaining to the different generations focus on the stereotypes separating them. While these stereotypes can be true for some, they are stereotypes and are not true for everyone. I think the greatest understanding of each generation comes from considering the environment in which they were raised:
Silent Traditionalists (born 1900-1945)
The most experienced generation in the workforce, the Silents have gone through some trying times. The Great Depression and World War II are just two of the hardships this generation experienced growing up. This generation is typically thought to have a strong work ethic and respect for authority.
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
Change is the keyword for Boomers. While the increased population gave the Boomers their name, it was accompanied by the moon landing and the development of civil and women’s rights. Encouraging changes have led this generation to be optimistic and have a desire to be involved.
Generation X (born 1965-1976)
The growth of computers, mobile devices, and the internet led the way for this generation. Alongside this technological growth seemed to be a time of distrust, as the Watergate Scandal and an increase in divorce rates also occurred during this period. Based on this distrust, Gen X’ers are generally independent and crave a work-life balance.
Millennials (born 1977-1997)
School shootings, terrorist attacks, and 9/11 shaped the childhood of Millennials. Perhaps even more influential, however, was the birth of social media. The advancement in technology has led many millennials to feel that they need immediate feedback, resulting in a lack of patience. Still they may also be the first to discover the most efficient solution to problems.
Generation Z (born after 1997)
Social media is alive and well in this generation, as children grow up with devices and endless social media games and applications. It is not surprising that this generation is thought to be the most tech-savvy and resourceful.
As someone who falls in the Millennial category, I find myself feeling conflicted while reading the characteristics that different sources pin to each generation. My co-workers range in age, and many are not stereotypical of the generations to which they belong. Generational stereotypes can be useful, but we also need to consider that all of us are shaped by different life experiences, regardless of which generation we fall under.
Recognizing generational diversity in our workplaces is important, but perhaps even more important is how we utilize it. Communication should be personalized; a Boomer might appreciate a face-to-face interaction, while a Millennial may feel equally as involved with an email or instant message. When implementing change, be mindful of the varying levels of acceptance and timespan it may take individuals to embrace this change. Consider utilizing this diversity when building teams so unique strengths and differences are shown, and individuals have an opportunity to learn from each other.
As managers, leaders, and coworkers, we need to utilize emotional intelligence while working alongside others. It is important to use not only general knowledge of each generation but also to take the time to get to know our coworkers on a deeper level. I challenge you to learn something new about your employees and coworkers and to consider whether they fit their respective generations’ stereotypes.