There are four distinct generations in the workplace, each with its own worldview and its own work ethic. Some are fiercely loyal to the company, while others just want a steady paycheck. Here is a quick breakdown of each generation's attitude toward work, management style and preferred methods of communication:
- Veterans (born 1922-1945) When it comes to work, the company comes first. The veteran believes in starting at the bottom, paying dues, and working your way up through experience and seniority. The best education is on-the-job training. The veteran's management style is firm and direct, and he or she prefers face-to-face or phone communication.
- Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) Baby boomers have a strong work ethic, though they may not be as loyal to one company. They believe strongly in education, but that on-the-job experience trumps a fancy college degree. When it comes to management, boomers are all about meetings; employees should feel part of a team and consider annual progress reports a great source of feedback. Boomers are available by phone 24/7. They always check and leave voicemail messages, check e-mail a couple times a day and always responds by the end of the day (it's only polite).
- Generation X (born 1965-1980) Education and creativity count for something with Generation X; you shouldn't have to start at the bottom if you have fresh ideas. Generation Xers have never understood why they should care about company "traditions." They work hard for the company, but wouldn't hesitate to switch jobs if a better offer comes along. Work-life balance is important to them. Generation Xers believe that people will produce the best results if they're given the freedom to be creative. They like explaining the reasoning behind their decisions; this motivates employees in a way that they can understand. When it comes to communication, e-mail is king.
- Generation Y (born 1981-2000) Generation Y members believe they have some great ideas (at least that's what they've been told), so they just want to do their thing and the results will follow. They like their workplaces just fine -- until they get bored. Working from home is as good as the office as long as work gets done. Management is a snap -- everyone simply checks in with the online project management tool and updates his or her status. Texting is best if you want to get in touch with a Generation Y member. These people may never check voicemails or leave them -- in fact, they're perfectly OK with never meeting a colleague in person.
Now let's look at some of the problems that can arise when generation gaps become obstacles to workplace communication and productivity.