Generational Diversity in the Workplace

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  • September 2, 2014

Psychology has long studied “ages and stages” we all go through during our lifespan, although social psychologists are now finding interesting differences between the generations. Differences between different “eras” of workers can lead to differing work and managerial styles, as well as to conflict in the workplace.

Keeping in mind that any study of ages/stages or group characteristics speak in general terms, and exceptions are the norm. The following chart illustrates some key differences in work ethics and values within the work place:

Traditionalists 1925-1945 Baby boomers 1946-1960 Generation X 1961-1980 Millennials 1981 – present
PracticalPatient, loyal, and hardworking

Respectful of authority

Rule followers

OptimisticTeamwork and cooperation

Ambitious

Workaholic

ScepticalSelf-reliant

Risk-taking

Balances work and personal life

HopefulMeaningful work

Diversity and change valued

Technology savvy

 

Each generation is influenced by the social, political and economic times in which they are raised. Examining the above chart shows each generation has positive characteristics. Without awareness of such patterns in our managers, co-workers or those who work for us, conflict can arise. Often this conflict is one where no one wins, because both are correct from their perspective. For example, the younger worker may become frustrated with the older workers resistance to change. The older worker may become frustrated by those so in touch with technology their statements seem incomprehensible. The hard working baby boomer may view the Gen X worker to lack commitment, while the Gen X worker is more likely to take the initiative with new projects while the baby boomer is more likely to seek consensus before starting something new.

The question now is, you are aware of potential differences in your workplace, so what? The answer to that is in two parts, what not to do and what to do.

What not to do with the above information is to use it to place negative stereotypes on those you work with or use the information to demand special treatment for yourself. These work styles show trends, not absolutes. No style is seen to be better or worse than any other style, only different.

On a positive note, the “what to do” list is much longer.

First, it is important to value differing views and styles among the workplace. The person who works 18 hours a day is no more, or no less, valuable than the person who makes family a priority and refuses to work overtime. It is not for us to judge others, but for us to look at our own “style” realize that we have some cultural biases wired into us from our upbringing, and decide if we are satisfied with our lifestyle or not.

Second, learn to listen and never assume. Active listening involves taking time for the other person, listening without interrupting, paraphrase what you heard and trying to listen for not only the content but also the emotion behind the words. Avoid judgemental words and accusations.

Third, once you begin to understand what your co-workers value about their work, spend time to show appreciation and compliment them on their contributions. When many tasks need to be done in a workplace, work towards each person’s strength areas when dividing the tasks.

Fourth, by looking at your own job from the perspectives of your various co-workers you can start to make changes to your own approach to work in order to gain greater personal satisfaction. Looking back to the above table and reading across it, who would not want to work with the individual who is patient, cooperative, well-balanced and hopeful?

Our own personalities as they emerge in work, play and with family are the results of past learning (with a dash of genetics thrown in for good measure). Who we are as an individual is a dynamic and ever changing process and the ability to change unwanted traits may be difficult but is never impossible.

Stephen Carter, Ph.D.,
Chartered Psychologist