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4GenR8tns: Succeeding with Colleagues, Cohorts & Customers

By Arleen Arnsparger
2008

“People resemble their times more than they resemble their parents.”
Arab proverb

Do your employees remember the transistor radio or wear ear buds attached to an IPOD Nano? Is a turning point in their history the launch of Sputnik, the end of Apartheid, or the bombing of the World Trade Center on 9/11? Do they pick up their mail each day when they get home from work or constantly check for IMs during the workday?

If your company is like many these days, you probably are answering “all of the above” to these questions! And, if you’re like most of us, you think you understand and work reasonably well with colleagues who share a similar history to yours. But perhaps you’re more than a little confused about how to make a connection with staff members who, at times, seem to have grown up on a different planet!

Just a few years ago, people from different generations were separated at work by rank and status. In more traditional organizations, the oldest employees filled executive positions, the middle-aged held mid-management jobs, and the youngest worked on the front lines. Because of the nature of our jobs, we weren’t likely to work on a daily basis with those in other age groups. How times have changed!

For the first time in modern history, workplace demographics now span four generations. Twenty-five year old new hires find themselves working side-by-side with colleagues who are as much as fifty years older than they are. Baby Boomers attempt to develop a spirit of camaraderie with team members whose on-the-job experience amounts to a college semester internship. Generation Xers craft policies that will affect quality of life for colleagues old enough to be their grandparents. Members of the World War II Generation find themselves taking orders from new managers who are literally young enough to be their great-grandchildren.

The rich mix of generations in the workforce has come about because of the rising demand for a skilled workforce, fewer younger workers with adequate skills and experience to fill available positions, and the rising average age of retirement. Yet companies have barely begun to tap the available talent pool to alleviate their labor shortages.

Generations match – here, there, and everywhere

Regardless of who we are and where we grew up, the common features within generations cut across racial, ethnic, cultural and economic differences. As unique as people’s individual experiences may be, they share a place in history with all members of their generation. All members of a generation have been influenced by the world events, music, technology, heroes and catastrophes that occurred during their most formative years.

So when – and where — were you born? Broadly speaking, a generation covers approximately two decades. A person’s birthplace influences the generational timeframe.

In the U.S., many consider those people born between 1940 and 1960 Baby Boomers, even though the post-World War II boom in births began in 1946 and continued through 1964.

Since different countries have experienced similar influences at slightly different times, birth years for the generations vary somewhat, depending on country-specific political and economic events. For example, South African researcher Graeme Codrington extends the birth years for the Baby Boomers into the early 1970s based on the date of the National Party’s assent to power. He says the South African Boomers made abolishing Apartheid a cause in much the way the U.S. Boomers embraced the civil rights movement.

The generations also tend to overlap. Most people who are born in the early or late years of each generation actually identify with a couple of generations, sharing some characteristics and similarities in how they view their world.

Around the world, we’re different, yet very much alike! Regardless of birth country, a generation is a group of people who are “programmed” at the same time in history. For each of us, during our first, most formative years, we’ve been coded with data about what’s right and wrong, good and bad, stylish and unstylish. Individuals in our own generation share knowledge about a common set of events and trends—headlines and heroes, music and mood, parenting style and education system.

In our increasingly connected world, much of that coding crosses political and geographic boundaries. Whether you were a Baby Boomer growing up in the 60’s in what was then the Soviet Union or in the United States, you were influenced significantly by the dawn of the space age. If you’re a Millennial, whether the Asian tsunami in 2004 or Hurricane Katrina in 2005 hit closest to your home, both influenced your relationship with your world.

Throughout the world, dozens of books have been written about marketing to and managing the different generations. In the U.S., the study of generational differences has been going on for more than forty years. In 2000, demographer David Foot analyzed the generations in Canada and reported on his work in the best-selling Boom, Bust and Echo. That same year, the Japanese Ministry of Education funded a research project on Japan’s changing generations. At about the same time, South African Codrington began studying the generations in New Zealand, Mauritius, England, Russia, and South Africa.

What all these demographers have found is that, no matter what country people live in, the characteristics of the generations are, in general, similar. This is especially true for those who grew up in urban areas, were educated, and were exposed to international media.

Who are these generations?

Born between approximately 1980 and 2000, Millennials are the first generation to grow up surrounded by digital media. They are connected 24/7 to friends, parents, information and entertainment. They tend to have high expectations, clear goals, are willing to work hard and expect to have the support they need to achieve.

The largest percentage of today’s workforce, Generation Xers were born between 1960 and 1980. Many of their parents worked while they were growing up and they learned to be independent. They bring self-reliance into the workplace. They are willing to work hard, but they want a life beyond work.

Baby Boomers, born between 1940 and 1960, were taught to get along with others. They have been the primary force behind workplace practices like participative management, quality circles and teambuilding. And many Boomers are choosing to continue working during what have traditionally been considered retirement years.

Born before 1940, World War II Generation workers grew up in the wake of a worldwide economic depression. They have a strong commitment to their families, their communities and their country. Their values and work ethic still influence policies and practices in the workplace.

Generations in the workplace

Companies with multi-generational employees are recognizing that priorities, attitudes, work styles and perspectives differ with each generation. Without intentional strategies to build understanding, generational differences can lead to frustration, conflict, and poor morale. According to a 2005 survey by Lee Hecht Harrison, more than 60 percent of employers were already experiencing intergenerational conflict. Employers who are knowledgeable about generations—their histories, values, perspectives, and work ethics—will be poised to attract and retain productive workers of all ages and reap the benefits of the knowledge, experience and creativity of all their employees.

The benefits of managing effectively across generations don’t end at the employee parking lot. In today’s highly competitive marketplace, more and more companies are learning that exceptional customer service can set them apart from their competitors. And customers are best served by people who understand their needs and establish rapport with them. To attract and retain customers across the generational spectrum, employees must understand and cater to generational preferences.

Millennials Strengths:

  • Optimistic
  • Ability to multi-task
  • Technologically savvy
  • A global world view
  • Goal- and achievement-oriented
  • Believe in volunteerism and serving their communities

Challenges for employees and managers:

  • Need supervision and structure
  • Inexperienced – particularly in handling challenging “people issues” in the workplace
  • View changing jobs as a natural process and part of their daily schedules
  • Instill a sense of play and fun in the work atmosphere.

What motivates them?

  • Managers who connect their actions to their personal and career goals
  • The promise of working with other bright, creative people
  • Having adequate time and flexibility to live the life they want

Generation XERS Strengths:

  • Adaptable
  • Technologically literate
  • Independent
  • Creative
  • Expect to contribute
  • Willing to buck the system

Challenges for employees and managers:

  • Skeptical
  • Distrust authority
  • Less attracted to leadership positions

What motivates them?

  • Giving them the freedom to get the job done on their own schedule
  • Allowing them to do it their way
  • Having very few rules
  • Being more informal than “corporate”

Baby Boomers Strengths:

  • Committed to customer service
  • Dedicated
  • Good team members
  • Optimistic
  • Future-oriented
  • A wealth of experience and knowledge

Challenges for employees and managers:

  • Uncomfortable with conflict
  • Sometimes put process ahead of results

What motivates them?

  • Leaders who get them involved and show them how they can make a difference.
  • Managers who value their opinion and recognize their contributions

The World War II Generation Strengths:

  • Strong work ethic
  • A wealth of experience
  • Discipline
  • Loyalty
  • Emotional maturity
  • Believe in the “greater good”
  • Focus and perseverance
  • Stability
  • See work as a privilege

Challenges for employees and managers:

  • Reluctant to buck the system and speak up when they disagree
  • Uncomfortable with conflict

What motivates them?

  • Seeing how their actions affect the overall good of the organization
  • Respect for their knowledge, experience and insights
  • Rewards for their perseverance and work ethic

The view from each generation’s window:

  Millennial
Generation
Generation X Baby Boom
Generation
WWII
Generation
Outlook… Hopeful Skeptical Optimistic Practical
Work Ethic… Ambitious Balanced Driven Dedicated
View of Authority… Relaxed, Polite Unimpressed Love/Hate Respectful
Leadership By… Achievement, Pulling together Competence Consensus Hierarchy
Relationships… Loyal, inclusive Reluctant to Commit Personal Gratification Self-sacrifice
Perspective… Civic-minded Self-reliant Team-oriented Civic-minded
Turn-Offs… Promiscuity Cliché, Hype Political Incorrectness Vulgarity

What the generations have in common

Working across generations, it’s often easy to identify differences between and among groups. However, it’s important to recognize their similarities as well.

Successful organizations are ensuring that company leaders not only understand these similarities, but create work environments that support them. According to recent research conducted by Randstad and the Center for Creative Leadership, employees across the generations agree that:

  • Work is a vehicle for personal fulfillment and satisfaction, not just for a paycheck.
  • Workplace culture is important.
  • Being trusted to get the job done is the number one factor that defines job satisfaction.
  • They need to feel valued by their employer to be happy in the job.
  • They want flexibility in the workplace.
  • Success is finding a company they can stay with for a long time.
  • Career development is the most valued form of recognition, even more so than pay raises and enhanced titles.

Six Principles for Managing Generations

Creating a climate of respect throughout your organization is a critical foundation for bringing out the best in employees from each generation. Building upon shared values, attitudes and behaviors while reaching out in ways that are appropriate to each group will be the key to a manager’s success. Company leaders would do well to follow The Titanium Rule: Do unto others, keeping their preferences in mind!

Organizations succeed when they create a work culture that encourages people from all generations to contribute to their fullest potential. These organizations:

  • Know their company demographics—internally and externally.
    They gather data about their current customers and target where they want to increase market share. They gather data and learn about their employees and consider how well their staff mirrors current and projected customers.
  • Are intentional about creating and responding to generational diversity. They identify needed skill sets within the company and recruit new staff from across the generations. They seek out individuals from under-represented generations for work teams, boards and advisory groups.
  • Build on strengths. The most effective mixed-generation work teams recognize the unique strengths of each individual. Successful companies find ways to bring out those strengths and help each individual develop his or her talents so they can reach their own potential and contribute in their own ways.
  • Offer options. They recognize that people from a mix of generations have differing needs and preferences and design their human resources strategies to meet varied employee needs. They offer a variety of benefits, flexible schedules, and an array of opportunities for professional growth and advancement.
  • Develop an understanding of and appreciation for generational differences and strengths. They find ways to learn about their employees’ needs, perspectives and interests and share that learning across the organization. They structure opportunities for less experienced employees from each generation to learn from their more experienced and knowledgeable colleagues.
  • Train people to communicate effectively across generations. Communication styles and levels of comfort with varied technologies differ from one generation to the next. Successful companies recognize those differences, employ an array of communication methods and teach employees how to reach out effectively to their colleagues and insure that their communication approaches are inclusive and welcoming.

Learning more about different generations and putting that knowledge to use will help you achieve the results you want in your organization. Remember: your success could depend on how well you understand and adapt to the values, unique style and sense of humor each generation brings to work. Roman statesman Cicero once observed, “He who knows only his own generation remains always a child.” As colleagues from different generations, we help one another to thrive, to contribute and to realize our full potential.

Success Effect Interview with Claire Raines

From The Success Effect
by John Eckberg
2008

Claire Raines sees generational motivation as a critical challenge for firms looking to thrive in the next decade. Choosing the right person for the right job becomes even more critical when dealing with members of the X-Generation. That demographic has no qualms about quietly moving on to another company if their needs are not being met at the company where they are currently employed.

Her client roster includes Microsoft, Toyota, American Express and Sprint.

Question: Do generations get along at work?

Answer: Oh, that’s sort of like asking whether people get along. Yeah, sometimes, but I think there’s an awful lot of judging going on—where people don’t agree with other people’s work ethic or their approach to work and sometimes don’t realize it’s generational. Sometimes, I think, there’s actually quite a bit of generational conflict.

Cds In The Changer

  • Back on Top by Van Morrison
  • Keb’ Mo’ by Keb’ Mo’
  • Brand New Day by Sting
  • Best of Friends by John Lee Hooker

Q: Is it an older generation judging the younger generation?

A: Partly. Certainly we’ve had lots of judgment going on by the Baby Boomers [Americans born from 1946 to 1964] of the Generation X-ers [1965 to 1977] for the last 10 or 12 years. But now that the Generation X-ers are established in the work force —they’re now 40 percent of the work force and the Boomers are 45 percent—they’re getting to be almost as big a group, and they are moving into positions of more control and power. They are also getting more experience and are beginning to say, “Just a minute, this isn’t fair. There are all sorts of things about you guys that aren’t so wonderful, either.” Like Generation X-ers would tell you, Boomers tend to be really political and have learned how to say all the right things like, “We really care what employees think,” that kind of stuff.

Q: So boomers have artifice down pat?

A: Right. Generation X-ers think Boomers are artificial, and they think Boomers have been badly indulged, that they’ve been in the spotlight. Another big complaint that Generation X-ers have is that Boomers are just driven by work, that they’ve made it the meaning of life, almost like a religion. Generation X-ers think that’s pretty unhealthy.

I’ve been working with this stuff for 15 years. I’ve written four books about the generations in the workplace based on focus groups, interviews, surveys and lots of other people’s work, too. I hope that people will realize that growing up in a different era tends to make people see the world differently, and that that’s not a bad thing. I would like executives and corporate leaders to realize that people are not going to grow up and be just like them, that people will get more tolerant of differences and begin to value differences. I would hope people will improve their communications and management styles and keep generational differences in mind.

Q: When it comes to retention, it seems like Generation X-ers are a freelance generation—24 months at a place and they’re out of there. That would be heresy to some earlier generations.

A: Absolutely. That is a huge generational difference. Generation X-ers were shaped by the 1970s. They saw an oil shortage and Nixon go down in disgrace. They watched their parents get out-placed and laid off. They grew up in an uncertain economy. They tend to think of themselves first—of course there are all sorts of people who don’t fit this profile—but one typical characteristic of Generation X-ers is that they think of themselves as free agents. They think of themselves as marketable commodities.

Books On The Nightstand

  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Meredith Bagby, the CNNfn reporter, sometimes quotes a survey that says there are more Generation X-ers who believe in UFOs than [those] who believe that Social Security will be there for them. They feel like their only ticket to security is themselves and their resumés.

Q: For employers to retain Generation X-ers—is it a simple question of more dollar signs?

A: Dollar signs work for all the generations, really. For Generation X-ers, money is important, but they also say they want to get that resumé strong, not necessarily because they want to take the resumé somewhere else, but because they want to be developed.

On The Coffee Table

  • Vanity Fair
  • People
  • Creative Nonfiction

Carryout: Growing up in different eras leads people see the world from a variety of perspectives. GenXers are free agents, and see themselves as marketable assets. Boomers like security. GenXers like personal development. Realize differences. Adapt communication approaches to the generation.

Trump. Gerstner. Chopra. Zell. Springer. Those are just some of the names in The Success Effect, a ground-breaking project by Cincinnati Enquirer buxiness columnist John Eckberg. This extensive volume contains candid conversations with America’s top business trailblazers and innovators.

Leadership Post 9/11

by Leslie Jaffe & Karl Krumm
2002

The answer: Now more than ever! 
The question: How important is your role as leader in the new reality since September 11?
The complexity: Your workforce is made up of four distinctly different generations, all looking to you for some sense of security. Members of all four generations were profoundly affected by the tragic events of September 11. Yet all are asking for something different, and they’re asking for it now. 

People have a lot to be troubled about. They’re concerned for the safety of their families…they wonder if they have their priorities straight…they feel uneasy about the economy..and they worry the next layoff may be their own. September 11 brought a new perspective to everything in our lives, including how we go about being leaders. 

Imagine what life would be like if you had these four people looking to you for leadership:

George, in his seventies and a member of the WWII Generation, is one of the company’s founding partners. He served his country in WWII and went to school on the GI bill. He reminisces about the company’s early days, the dedication, and the loyalty. Back then, it was just George and a secretary, working long hours on the phone with clients, writing orders, and getting billings out. George has flirted with retirement, but isn’t sure what he would do with the time. He still comes in every day to deal with a few blue-chip clients. When he talks about September 11, he recalls Pearl Harbor and the call to duty. Now his grandchildren face a world situation he hoped he had saved them from.

George thinks of General Patton as the quintessential leader–a take- charge kind of guy who sets clear hierarchical boundaries with well-defined roles. George respects authority, and expects the same from others.

Then you have Patricia, one of the first female senior leaders in the firm. At fifty, she’s a member of the Baby Boom Generation. Patricia has worked days, nights, and weekends to get where she is. Sensitive to inclusion issues, she prides herself on being a role model for bright, young staffers. She searches for ways to make a difference. September 11 leaves her with mixed emotions. She was confused about Vietnam, and she feels that way again. Patricia wants to voice her concerns, participate in decisions, and find ways to make the world–or at least her company–a better place.

She responds best to team leadership and thrives in a holistic work environment that nurtures mind, body, and spirit. Passion, inspiration, and a clear articulation of vision, mission and values move Baby Boomers like Patricia. She really wants leadership to acknowledge her time and efforts.

Derek is a member of the group known as Generation X. A talented major contributor, he is in his thirties. Although the salary and perks of a job in management appeal to him, he wonders if he would really enjoy it, and he finds it increasingly difficult to play what he calls the "jump-through-these-hoops-to-move-up game.” 

This is a great job and a great opportunity–how many times has he heard that from senior management?–but it is not his whole life. He is committed to making time to be with his friends and to participate in the many sports he loves. 

He remembers Desert Storm, the smoothness of its execution, and its brevity. Derek feels the swell of patriotism, but worries that maybe once again the world has changed at an inopportune time, putting his dreams on hold. 

Derek responds to leaders who are competent, results-oriented, and flexible. He appreciates communication that is direct and straightforward. He’s willing to work very hard when he gets clear assignments with goals and expectations, milestones and deadlines, the resources he needs–and the freedom to accomplish the end result on his own. 

Finally, there’s Ashley. At 15, she’s a member of the Millennial Generation. She comes in after school and on weekends as part of a high-school work-study program. 

We’ve just begun to learn about the leadership preferences of this newest generation. We’ve learned that Millennials expect behavior to be congruent with position; this generation had stronger opinions about the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal than any other. They look up to leaders who are collaborative, tolerant, and skillful at resolving conflicts and building broad coalitions. Heroes are back "in" with this generation. They name Tiger Woods, Yankees Coach Joe Torre, New York firefighters, and Colin Powell.

What’s a Leader to Do?

With this mix of personalities, you’ve got a leadership dilemma on your hands. You need to deal with your own reactions during these times before you can be of help to anyone else. Then, you need to handle each of your people as individuals.

Leadership Guidelines to Increase Productivity &
Morale

Choose your leadership actions based on what people need, not what you’re most comfortable with. Here are some suggestions:

For Members of the WWll Generation

  1. Use a personal touch. Make face-to-face contact. Computer-driven communication sometimes alienates members of this generation.
  2. Be mindful of age and experience. Show your people their experience is viewed as an asset rather than a liability. 
  3. Capitalize on experience. Consider setting up mentoring relationships that match senior employees with younger ones. Lots of Millennials feel a strong bond with older employees.

For Baby Boomers

  1. Play to their strength of pulling teams together to get over
    current hurdles.
  2. Give them an arena to voice their pain–a one-on-one talk over a cup of coffee, focus groups, personal counseling. This is the "get help" generation. 
  3. Leverage their willingness to work hard and give them extra public recognition for their efforts.

For Generation Xers 

  1. Allow them to get the job done on their own (what might seem unorthodox) schedule.
  2. Make time for those who are struggling. Take a walk or go out for a beer. Give them your undivided attention.
  3. Tap into their adaptability. Gen Xers are typically flexible, and many are independent operators. Give them an important task that needs to get done; they’ll likely get it handled!

And Millennials

  1. This young group of workers is community-oriented. These are graduates of required community service hours. Get them involved in meaningful volunteer efforts and support the projects they are already involved with. 
  2. Use their capability to access information quickly and to share it in a way that works for a diverse group of people. This is the most technologically and globally savvy generation. They grew up with computers and diversity.
  3. Pair them up with older mentors. On surveys, Millennials say they resonate most with the Baby Boom and WWII generations. Never has the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives by being a leader of all generations been so great. 

Leslie Jaffe & Karl Krumm are Senior Consultants of Claire Raines Associates. 

Diversity & Generations

by Claire Raines
2002

This article is an excerpt from Connecting Generations: The Sourcebook by Claire Raines.


Sorting the Cards | Synergism | Stir-Fry | Diversity Interviews at DTE Energy | Generations Interview | Generational Awareness: 10 Bright Ideas | Diversity Awareness: 5 Bright Ideas | Benefits of the Multi-Generation Work Team | Q&A


 

Generations: a diversity issue. The generation we belong to is one of the many differences we may have with our coworkers. Those differences can cause stress, discomfort, conflict, and frustration. They can also become a source for creativity and productivity.

Sorting the Cards

One of our trainers, Karl Krumm, got me to thinking about generational differences as one of a variety of ways to sort cards. If you had a deck of playing cards in front of you right now, you could sort the cards by suit. You could sort them by color. You could sort them into face cards and numbered cards. You could sort them by numerical value. This metaphor has been helpful to me in how I think about businesspeople and the issues they face. Play along here. If your coworkers were a deck of cards, you could sort that deck in all kinds of ways. You might want to split the deck into two stacks—one for men, one for women. You could separate them according to ethnic background. You might stack the deck according to sexual orientation. You could sort according to coworkers’ countries of origin. You could make sixteen piles that represent the Myers Briggs types.

Karl, who has a Ph.D. in psychology and is a student of human nature, believes—and I think he’s right—that each time you sorted the cards and then explored the ways the stacks were different from and similar to the others, along with the ways all the cards in a stack were similar to each other, you would get helpful information that would give you valuable insights about every card. Of course, sorting the cards would never give you a picture of the complete person; individual human beings are way too complex for that. But if you’re interested in people and how to work more effectively with them, we’re certain you’ll find the generational sort to be an extremely valuable one. The ability to relate effectively to all types of people is one of today’s essential leadership skills.

To add another metaphor, we can use generational lenses to help us see things we might otherwise not notice. By the way, I don’t personally find that I go around in my own life wearing my generational lenses all, or even most, of the time. The breakdowns and misunderstandings that concern me the most—an endangered friendship, a miscommunication with a family member, a frustrated associate—these generally have little or nothing to do with generational differences.

I have, however, found hundreds of situations in which generational lenses made all the difference. A team I worked with—all Boomers and one Xer—was able to approach work issues from a whole new perspective. A successful trucking company decided they wanted to remain a World War II-style company, even though they probably won’t attract many Gen X recruits. A hospital changed to a more successful fundraising campaign that targeted new young donors. A manager quit trying to impose her values on her younger associates when she realized their customers were unfazed by nose rings and tattoos. A 50-year-old woman developed more empathy for her “military-style” dad. An executive began to understand where his estranged son might be “coming from.”

There are lots of situations that aren’t generational in nature, but then there are plenty that are, too. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep those “generational lenses” handy so they’re available when you need them.

Synergism

It seems like just a few years ago, most companies in the Western world operated on the model that the best organization was made up of ranks of similar, like-minded people. Orientation sessions and training programs sought to clone the best and brightest existing employees. I remember seeing a couple of surveys that showed the typical interviewer tended to hire the person who was most similar to him- or herself. Some organizations even became known for the same-colored shirts everyone was expected to wear. It was a manufacturing model in which the company was judged on its success at churning out consistent carbon copies of human capital.

Synergism is a term popularized by Buckminster Fuller. Like the principle of yin/yang which has been known for centuries in the Eastern world, synergism recognizes that when we include divergent perspectives, the sum is greater than its parts. That, when a team includes people from various ethnic backgrounds, and all those perspectives are utilized, the team is more effective. That, when the marketing group incorporates people from all the generations, its campaigns are more successful. That, when the executive board includes men and women and listens to both perspectives, the board’s decisions will be more sound.

Stir-Fry

When it comes to diversity, our nation and most of its businesses have historically operated on the melting pot theory. It was great for forming a country, but it’s time for a new metaphor. After all, when you melt everything down, it gets mixed together and it into a mass of gray sludge. The different groups lose their uniqueness. Everything becomes uniform and we lose that variety of perspectives. Potential goes untapped.

I think it works better to think of corporate diversity as a stir-fry where the cook adds a variety of things—genders, generations, ethnicities. Each retains its uniqueness and contributes flavor to the whole dish. Something wonderful is created that is far tastier, more nutritious, and more interesting than any one part. To lose even one ingredient would diminish the texture and taste.

Today’s most effective organizations don’t just tolerate diversity. They seek it out. They go looking for people of all nationalities, political beliefs, backgrounds, ages, and genders. It’s not always easy, because differences are often thought of negatively, as in, “We’ve had our differences.” Says Tom Crum, “Conflicts can be disastrous or miraculous, depending on how you react to them.”
(The Magic of Conflict, Touchstone Press, 1987) Differences become miraculous when we appreciate them and utilize them. A BP Amoco employee document sums it up: “The diverse people who are BP Amoco will increasingly make our company distinctive by continually challenging how we think, what we do, and how we do it to achieve exceptional business performance.”

Today’s best companies create competitive advantage by becoming employer of choice—by being the company all the best people want to work for. This requires a work culture that recognizes and appreciates a variety of perspectives, styles, and opinions—where differences are sought out, valued, respected, and put to use. Business success requires a workforce that is educated about diversity, where associates have developed their awareness and appreciation for differences and have learned useful skills for bridging the gaps and tapping into the best of everyone.

Diversity
Interviews at DTE Energy

To broaden their knowledge of the experiences and
beliefs of people from other races and cultures, and to identify ways
to support those people, participants in a class called
Diversity for Leaders at Detroit Edison interview someone of
a race or ethnic group different from their own. They share the
responses—not the names—in their session.

Here are the interview questions:

  1. What do you like about your ethnic group or race?
  2. What do you wish other ethnic groups understood or knew about your group?
  3. Do you feel all your work-related talents and skills are used on the job?
  4. What are the challenges you face at work that may have to do with your race/culture/ethnicity?
  5. What can a company leader, supervisor, or coworker do to support you?

Senior Diversity Specialist Nikki Moss developed the class and the interview format. She shares these excellent tips for expanding your diversity learning experience:

  1. To conduct the interview, treat your interviewee to lunch at a restaurant she feels is representative of her culture.
  2. Ask the interviewee to recommend a museum, business, or art gallery representative of his culture. Consider going there together.
  3. Ask to attend a worship service with her at her place of worship.
  4. Be ambitious and conduct interviews with people from a number of cultures.
  5. Go beyond race and interview someone differently-abled
    than you or someone of a different sexual orientation.

Generations Interview

A similar interview could be conducted with a member of another generation:

  1. What generation do you generally consider yourself to be a member of?
  2. What do you like about your generation?
  3. What do you wish other generations knew or understood about your generation?
  4. Do you feel all your work-related talents and skills are used on the job?
  5. What challenges do you face at work that may have to do with your generation?
  • Successful businesspeople tap into the resources of a diverse workforce.
  • Is there a Generation Xer on your Board of Directors? How about a Millennial?
  • Will many of your best people be retiring in the next few years? Is your process for building “bench strength” under way?
  • Do you have close working relationships with at least one person from each generation?

Generational Awareness: 10 Bright Ideas

  1. Have a Generational Awareness Week. Post icons and photos that represent the generations. Include slang and popular expressions. Play music that was popular in each generation’s formative era.
  2. Write four versions—one for each generation—of an Employee Value
    Proposition
    , a list of what is attractive about working for your organization.
  3. Review your benefits package, asking yourself which generation would likely be most attracted to each…which perks are attractive to all generations.
  4. Come up with three rewards specific to each generation.
  5. Do a generational diversity audit for your
    organization
    . What percentage of your workforce is from each generation? Are all the generations represented at all levels?
  6. Review the makeup of your Board of Directors. Are you getting the perspectives of all the generations?
  7. Become an expert on a generation other than your own. Find someone twenty years older—or younger—to teach you about his or her generation: history, characteristics, language, work preferences.
  8. Watch a movie that focuses on a generation other than your own
    (The Big Chill, Reality Bites, Office Space, Saving Private Ryan.) Step into the perspective of one of the characters. How might you see things differently if you were a member of the generation being featured?
  9. Examine a “difference” from both sides. Begin by thinking of a conflict you are having/have had with someone with whom you have generational differences, and with whom you would genuinely like to have a better relationship. Write a brief paragraph about how you see the situation. Put it aside for a few minutes. Then reread what you wrote. Next, re-examine the situation and see if you can step into the other person’s shoes. Finally, write a paragraph that might reveal his or her perspective.
  10. In a management meeting, create profiles of four ideal managers—one for each generation. Then, ask participants to survey five employees each about the type of manager they prefer. In the meeting, discuss your findings and revise the profiles, if necessary. What do all the profiles have in common? Where do they differ? How can your managers apply what they’ve learned?

Diversity Awareness: 5 Bright Ideas

Here are some similar ideas for increasing awareness, empathy, and understanding about other areas of diversity:

  1. Host cultural awareness weeks for all the countries of origin represented in your employee base.
  2. Do a cultural diversity audit for your organization.
  3. Review the makeup of your Board of Directors. Is it representative of your employee base? Of the community you serve?
  4. Become an expert on a culture represented by one of your coworkers.

    Watch a movie that focuses on a culture (ethnicity, country of origin, disability, sexual orientation) other than your own. Get a recommendation from someone representative of that other culture about a movie they’d recommend that would help you better understand their culture.

  • When differences are encouraged, productivity and creativity increase.

Benefits of the Multi-Generation Work Team

  1. The team can attract and retain talented people of all ages.
  2. The team is more flexible.
  3. The team can gain and keep greater market share because its members reflect a multi-generation market.
  4. Decisions are stronger because they’re broad-based.
  5. The team is more innovative.
  6. The team can meet the needs of a diverse public.

Q&A

Dear Claire,

One of my young employees wants to take time off when he and his wife adopt a baby. I’ve never had a male employee ask for this before. Is this a generational thing?

Jennifer

Dear Jennifer,

I think so. The oldest Baby Boomers were deeply involved in the women’s movement. The next generation tends to have feminist men and women! Many Gen X fathers feel that parenting is a 50/50 deal. I think it’s totally cool that he wants to spend time with the new baby (Easy for me to say when I don’t have to find someone to take his place on the job, isn’t it?). I think we’ll be seeing more and more of this kind of thing.

The Boomers & The Xers

by Claire Raines
1999

For the next three decades, the Boomers and the Xers will find themselves side-by-side in the workplace—and often not with the Boomer in charge. The old order has crumbled: organizations are throwing away the hierarchy, technology is mixing things up, and the information age and service economy are pushing people into nonlinear positions. No longer are executives the oldest, mid-managers the middle-aged, and front-line workers the youngest. The Xers’ technological acuity and business savvy have put hordes of them working side-by-side with their older counterparts. 

Now many Xers are managing the very Boomers who have complained so vociferously about them. In the coming years, some of those in charge will be Xers, some will be Boomers, and lots of folks from both groups will find themselves trying to work together on the same teams.

These two generations have some subtle, but critical, differences. It’s as if the air around them in their formative years was different. Where the Boomers were indulged, the Xers were overlooked; the Boomers had time to "hang out," the Xers have always been pressed for time; the Boomers saw a world of opportunity, the Xers felt forced to adopt a survivor mentality. The Boomers were the first generation to be graded on their report cards for "works with others," the Xers the first generation of latchkey children who were on their own after school and had to learn to rely on themselves.

Therefore, they see the world of work—and each other—a bit differently. Since generational differences are based primarily on assumptions and unconscious criteria, surfacing them takes a giant step towards resolving them. If these two groups are to work together successfully—and, let’s face it, they must—we need to explore these assumptions and perceptions, deepen our understanding of each other, find the commonalties, and develop better ways to communicate and work together. 

What They Say About Each Other

Boomers say Xers…

  • aren’t loyal
  • have no work ethic
  • are not committed
  • are self-focused
  • have no respect

Xers say Boomers…

  • are too political
  • don’t practice what they preach
  • are workaholics
  • need validation
  • are self-righteous

Generational Perspectives

Boomers tend to be more process-oriented, Xers more results-oriented. "The Boomers wear their values on their sleeves," says Dr. Deborah Bender of the University of North Carolina School of Public Health. "They were taught they would make a difference in the world, and they are driven by the mission of their organization. To the Xers, though, very little is sacred. They just want to get the job done and get to their lives beyond work. They’ll change jobs – even industries – on the average of seven times in their careers." Dr. Bender says one of the key complaints Xers have about Boomers is their "soft" – some might call it wishy-washy – communication style. Boomers say things like, "I’d love it if you would…." and "You might want to…." Most Xers wish the Boomers would just say, "Here’s what needs to get done…" (One Nike ad says it this way: "Don’t insult our intelligence. Tell us what it is. Tell us what it does. And don’t play the national anthem while you do it.")

What can be done to bridge the gap? Here are some ideas for each group: 

Xers can: 

  1. Show respect for the Boomers. They’ve put in their time. They don’t want to be called "Mr." or "Mrs." or "Sir" or "Ma’am," but they do want to know you respect their experience. 
  2. Take your time. Boomers tend to value the "people side" of business. Take the time to get to know them as human beings who care what you think of them. 
  3. Be friendly. Call Boomers by name – and "check in" with them ("How did your son do at his soccer match?" "How was your ski trip?") 
  4. Choose face-to-face conversation when possible. Sometimes e-mail and voicemail are too impersonal for Boomers.

Boomers can: 

  1. Get to the point. Most Busters prefer a straightforward approach. 
  2. Avoid cliché and hyperbole. Busters feel Boomers give lipservice to concepts like employee involvement and empowerment – and don’t actually do what they say. 
  3. Learn to use technological communication efficiently. Busters say Boomers play phone tag – when they could simply explain on their message what they want/need. Use e-mail when it’s appropriate – not for feedback, for example, but to pass along information. 
  4. When delegating, sketch out the end result, but allow the Buster to figure out how to achieve the result. 

Generational differences are based primarily on assumptions and unconscious criteria. 

Generational Perspectives…

Boomers:

  • Outlook: optimistic 
  • Work Ethic: driven
  • View of Authority: love/hate
  • Relationships: personal gratification
  • Perspective: team

Xers:

  • Outlook: skeptical 
  • Work Ethic: balanced
  • View of Authority: unimpressed
  • Relationships: reluctant to commit
  • Perspective: individual 

For more on Xers and Boomers:

Generation X Managing Generation X

by Claire Raines
1997

The ranks of supervision and management are filling with members of Generation X – born between 1960 and 1980. Depending on the industry, approximately 30% to 90% of first-line supervisors are in their twenties and thirties. And this generation comprises about 10% of general, district, and corporate management today.

In the service industries, these managers are supervising a group of employees who are mostly members of their own generation. About half of all supervisors and managers will tell you that managing their own cohorts is easy. Because they share the same history, there is empathy—and they understand what makes each other tick. Says Beth Cong, 25, Assistant Manager at the Benetton store in Palo Alto, California, "They’re still young. They listen, and they do what they’re told." The other half finds managing members of their own generation especially challenging. "They’re not like me," some say. "They’re not committed. They don’t show up on time. And they won’t listen." Even those who find managing their cohorts easy admit that most of their employees have a work ethic that differs from their own. Young supervisors and managers have typically "paid their dues" for 6 or 7 years, working long hours and weekends, to get where they are today. 

It’s a bit of a paradox. Managers say their employees are often not willing to put in the hours. At the same time, they don’t understand why they can’t be managers themselves. 
The list of what Generation X supervisors find difficult about managing employees in their late teens, twenties, and even early thirties differs very little from the list older managers cite. They say their young employees often:

  • are not reliable.
  • are not willing to work long hours.
  • think in terms of "job" – not "career."
  • have unrealistic expectations about raises and promotions.

What seems to be a non-issue for Gen X managers is the "credibility gap." You might think, since they are not much older—and, in some cases, are younger than those they supervise— they would have problems establishing authority. But this generally isn’t a problem. Generation Xers tend to consider authority a "whatever" kind of thing anyway. They don’t give their respect to others based just on titles. After all, they grew up watching authority figures (Nixon, Reverend Baker, divorcing parents) become all-too-human, complete with imperfections. Nor do Gen X supervisors expect special treatment based on titles. They fully expect to earn every ounce of respect given them.

Interviews with a number of highly successful Gen-X managers showed they have some common traits that can be helpful to all managers. Consider the following guidelines for recruiting, motivating, and retaining Generation X employees:

  • Avoid judging. When we find that others’ work ethics differ from ours, it is easy to label it "poor" or even "nonexistent." Recognize differences, but don’t judge them. Instead, look for things you have in common. 
  • Accommodate individual needs whenever possible. Beth Cong says, "I’m pretty flexible. If they need to be an hour late, that’s okay. So when I ask for favors (‘Can you come in on your day off?’), they usually help me out." 
  • Demonstrate competence. It is the quickest way to earn the respect of Gen X employees. 
  • Forgive impatience. If your people are anxious for raises and promotions, chalk it up to the energy of youth. Young people have always wanted it NOW. 
  • Be a coworker until someone requires a boss. Evan DeFoe, 28, became a manger at TGI Friday’s in Baltimore when he was 22. Since he had been buddies with his staff for 2 1/2 years, he decided to "do the power trip thing," he says. "I went out of my way to catch people making mistakes. I acted like a boss. But it was unsuccessful. People argued with me, and I made the waitresses cry. Now I’m their co-worker until they ask me to be a boss. I allow people to make their own mistakes and then fix them themselves." 
  • Celebrate. Create fun events and a stimulating environment. When people are having fun, they tend to be more themselves – and they perform better. Hold special events to celebrate the heroes on your staff. This will make you a hero in their eyes!

Generation X’s Preferred Work Environment

Xers as Managers

Assets:

Gen X managers tend to:

  • be highly competent technically. 
  • have a somewhat lower "need-to-be-liked" factor than older managers.
  • bring a fresh perspective.
  • have a systems/big-picture orientation.
  • hold a strong work ethic.
  • care less about status and power than some of their older counterparts. 

Liabilities:

Gen X managers tend to:

  • show impatience with poor performers.
  • have a hard time identifying with young employees who don’t share their work ethic.
  • be less "seasoned" in their decision-making (nothing they can do to change their age!).
  • give needy employees less attention than they require.