An example, based on these traits, would be to think about how words are received differently. When a Boomer says to another Boomer, “We need to get the report done,” it is generally interpreted by the Boomer as an order, it must be done and done now. However, when a Boomer says to an Xer, “This needs to be done,” the Xer hears an observation, not a command, and may or may not do it immediately.
Getting Back to Work
With the above observations in mind, let’s look at a few work situations and how one might handle them.
• At annual appraisal time, a manager from the Veterans generation gives out a nice bonus for a project well done. The Generation X employee is ungrateful and says, “Why didn’t I get this six months ago, when the project was completed?” Gen X wants instant gratification, whereas a person in the Veterans generation is happy to get money anytime. The solution here may be for the company to explore reward plans geared to the different generations, or things like monetary rewards and recognition given at the time when it is earned.
• A Generation X manager tells a Boomer he has been working too hard and should take time off to take the family on vacation. Instead of saying thanks, the Boomer replies, “I work to get ahead, to get a promotion, not for a vacation.” The next time that situation comes up, the manager might elect to give this particular employee a bonus, rather than suggest a vacation.
• A top-notch, cross-functional team with individuals from several different generations has been set up to recommend a solution to a nasty manufacturing problem. After a couple of weeks, the manager responsible for the team cannot understand why there is constant bickering and nothing is getting done. If the manager were aware of just one characteristic of each individual relating to communication needs, he or she might understand the stalemate. The Veterans on the team are looking for handwritten notes and direct, specific requests for work to be done. The Boomers do not like to work independently, and they expect to have meetings any time, any place — and it is fine if they are called day or night. Xers do not want to hear about the project outside of work, and don’t dare call them at home. And the Yers don’t want any meetings at all, they only communicate via voice mail and e-mail. Is it any wonder that the team is having trouble getting motivated toward the goal? At the beginning of any team formation, an effective leader should consider spending time learning how team members wish to communicate.
• A Boomer is working for a Generation Y individual, and there is nothing but animosity between the two. Why? Generation Y individuals, born since 1980, have many of the traits of the Veterans. They are not like their parents. They are curious, goal-oriented and loyal. Solution, consider having Boomers work for Veterans rather than Gen Ys.
There are more pronounced differences between the generations today than ever before. What can one expect with the dramatic changes in our world in the last 60 years? Being aware of these differences can help individuals tailor their message for maximum effect, regardless of the task, or the relationship — family, friends, workplace peers. Good business is based on understanding others. The majority of us think the correct way, and the only way, is our way. In business, as well as in personal life, that is just not true. To work effectively and efficiently, to increase productivity and quality, one needs to understand generational characteristics and learn how to use them effectively in dealing with each individual.
References for this article include:
Karp, Hank; Fuller, Connie; Sirias, Danilo. Bridging the Boomer Xer Gap: Creating Authentic Teams for High Performance at Work. Palo Alto, Calif.: Davies-Black Publishing, 2002.
Kersten, Denise. “Today’s Generations Face New Communications Gap,” USA Today, November 15, 2002.
Lancaster, Lynne C.; Stillman, David. When Generations Collide: Who They Are, Why They Clash, How to Solve the Generational Puzzle at Work. HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2002.
Sago, Brad. “Uncommon Threads: Mending the Generation Gap at Work,” Executive Update, July 2000.
Walston, Sandra Ford. Distinguishing Communication Approaches Across Generations, 1999 (online publication), http://www.walstoncourage.com/pages/articles/generation.htm.
Zemke, Ron; Raines, Claire; Filipczak, Bob. Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers, and Nexters in Your Workplace. New York, N.Y.: American Management Association, 2000.