Surviving A Workplace With Multiple Generations

If your workplace has a range of age demographics, you may be familiar with tensions between millennials and other generations. Known as the “digital native” generation, millennials are perceived to have an advantage in modern business over their older counterparts through their inherent understanding of new ITIL (information technology infrastructure library) and communication platforms.

In an age of increasing technological integration amidst the rise of social media, it is easy to see the appeal of hiring staff that are naturally capable technologically and who have less trouble at learning to utilize new tools.

This can, however, lead to conflicts in the workplace. New tools and technology mean new ways of working and further ITIL certification requirements. It can also lead to millennials being promoted past their older counterparts. Moving from an experience-based promotion scheme to merit-based is one of the hallmarks of modern business, but there are many who still operate assuming the former is the primary means of promotion. This is turn can lead to resentment in the workplace and a drop in morale, which will correlate with a drop in productivity.

Brian Lonsdale, Director of Smarter Digital Marketing in Glasgow, says “Luckily we have a young work force so we don’t have to deal much with inter-generational differences. This was not the case before I started Smarter Digital Marketing. I worked in a mixed-generation workforce that was poorly managed in terms of differences. The result was constant bickering over which route was the right one to take, which technology should be used, basically anything that could be debated over. Productivity really suffered, and this contributed to me leaving and looking for another job.”

Characteristics Of The Millennial Workforce

Millennials, also known as Generation Y or simply Gen Y, were born between 1980 and 2000. Characterized by an abundance of self-confidence and an innate understanding of new technology, they tend to believe themselves highly valuable to any business from the start of their employment.

Working Style

While in school, millennials were educated through group style, co-operative teaching techniques. Combine this with the increased accessibility to social networking tools available while growing up and you have a generation who are comfortable and proficient at working in teams.

They also grew up in a multi-cultural world, leading to them working well in teams with diversity. With a firm belief that teamwork makes the dream work, collaboration is viewed not only as helpful but also necessary for them to deliver the best possible solution to a project or problem.

Communication

When communicating, millennials talk in packets of online data. Instant messaging (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram DM, etc.), texting, e-mails, and tweets all feature heavily in the lexicon of Gen Y communication.

Where they fall short is verbal and non-verbal cues. It’s easy to read an emoji, it’s difficult to read someone’s face. Having developed communication skills by staring at windows to the internet, they can fall short when looking at the windows to someone’s soul.

Attitude Towards Work

The millennial view of the workplace is vastly different from that of the Baby Boomers. Millennials as a generation are throwing aside the 9-5 work routine and moving towards a flexible working pattern, with 89% stating they would prefer to choose where and when to work rather than being placed in such a position. Many flat out refuse to sacrifice any part of their personal life for a job, believing that they work to life and not vice-versa.

Characteristics Of The Baby Boomer Workforce

The Baby Boomer generation is the generation born in the post-world war II, “golden years”. Raised in a world of economic prosperity amid a constantly revolutionizing world, Baby Boomers are solo artists raised to believe in the self and that one’s self is key to any beliefs.

Working Style

Baby Boomers tend to be hardworking and motivated by prestige, personal progression and platitudes. With a desire to take full credit for one’s own work, Baby Boomers are not necessarily the best at working within teams, preferring to look for outside assistance when required. This lack of teamwork skills is balanced by a strong drive to complete tasks to the utmost of their abilities.

Communication

Although the Baby Boomers were in business when the telecoms revolution took place, their communication harks back to a more traditional approach. Preferring meetings, phone calls and e-mails, they are the antithesis to their Gen Y counterparts.

Less prompt on their e-replies, Baby Boomers are more comfortable standing in the front of the person they are talking to. This, along with their greater years of experience in business, make them ideal for closing deals when a final face-to-face meeting is required.

Attitude To Work

Baby Boomers come from a time of over-dedication with regards to work and working hours. Although technically followers of the 9-5, for many of the older Baby Boomers it would be more accurate to describe the routine as 8-7.

Believing that self sacrifice in personal areas is a requirement to progress of a career, they expect others around them to follow suit. This is one of the biggest areas of conflict between the Baby Boomers and those that followed.

Managing the Differences in Generations

Making sure that differences in the working style of the generations is key to a productive workplace.

“The main difference is the business / leisure crossover,” says Jamie Campbell, Head of Experience at Bud in London. “Dipping into Facebook or Instagram in a meeting isn't a huge deal for someone my age. Staying later because you were browsing ASOS for two hours isn't a problem either.”

This feeling is echoed across the younger generations. Formality has taken on a new tone. Where once it would have been inconceivable to lose focus in a meeting, now it’s rude to ignore a tweet. Priorities naturally shift in any environment, and business as a whole is no different.

Customers now expect constant connectivity to their news outlets and product/service providers, something not everyone understands. “There are some things that younger people are just more au fait with,” says Campbell. “Without sounding cliched, it’s the new tech, the new channels, the new way of doing things that the older members don't get as much.”

It would be unfair to say that all the difficulties arise solely from the older generation. Stereotypes often associated with millennials are that they are self-absorbed, over-confident in their abilities, and unwilling to take responsibility.

Just as the Baby Boomers/Xers have things to learn from the millennials, so too could the younger members of a team do well to listen to the elders input. Some techniques towards minimizing the differences are as follows:

Integration

Any group, business or otherwise, benefits from being heterogeneous. Ensure that any project team consists of a mix of generations (if possible). A common tactic of Alexander the Great that Napoleon appropriated was to mix veteran units with fresh recruits. This gave his army the decisiveness that comes with experience as well as the flexibility given by a new outlook to a problem.

Training

A common saying is that you should not judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree. Expecting employees who have no experience of a certain piece of technology to be fluent and capable with it. By ensuring that all your employees have relevant training, you avoid misunderstandings and miscommunication. Being able to use technology appropriately is key to success in today’s business world, and with online certification now being available for ITIL training it is now easier than ever to ensure your employees are up to scratch.

Mentoring

Rather than criticizing someone for a lack of knowledge, it is far better to educate them. By implementing a mentoring system, colleagues can share skills and knowledge. It also opens up better working relationships, as the more time someone spends with another individual, the more they get to know their working style and personal attitude.

Realistically there have always been and will always be generational difference. It’s almost programmed into every succeeding generation to challenge the norms of the preceding generation. This does not mean, however, that we can’t aim at reducing them.

Considering the amount of progression society is making across a range of areas, there’s no reason that generations can’t come closer in working styles. As Campbell of Bud says, “Age is becoming less of a thing, but maybe that's just me. I am an optimistic millennial after all.”

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Wishart by name, Glaswegian by nature, Tom Wishart is a specialist in social media, emerging technologies, and business & marketing techniques. With a background in engineering and the hospitality trade, he has turned to writing to share his experience and knowledge, but mostly to avoid working 9-to-5. You can find him on Twitter @wishartwritings.