BY CHRISTINA FIORENZA
Your newest chauffeur, Adam, has just received his second email accolade from your toughest, pickiest long-term client. But of course he has: He is your most competent, responsible chauffeur who gladly works 50+ hours to ensure the job gets done, and gets done correctly. Ben, who has worked for you for six months, has conquered all the training, policies, and procedures you have put in place. He’s tearing through his training but doesn’t understand why you haven’t made him lead chauffeur yet, while also pushing you to implement the newest technological program that will take your business to the next level. And then there’s Charlie: He is your most loyal, longest-tenured chauffeur who finds Ben foolish for thinking he can rise to lead chauffeur so quickly—after all, that kind of promotion takes years of hard work, dedication, long hours, and sacrifice.
What is the main difference that gives each of these men a different work ethic and outlook? One was born in 1989, one in 1962, and one in 1975; they are, respectively, a Millennial, a Baby Boomer, and a Gen Xer. Do you know which is which?
Sociologists have long studied the differences in these generations, both in the workforce and in social settings. I’m willing to bet your staff is made up of all three of these generations. Understanding their core values, their work ethic and values, their assets and liabilities, and how they communicate can have a major impact on the success or crumbling of your team.
Let’s start with each generation’s core values, as it is important to understand what drives each generation. Baby Boomers (generally identified as those born between 1946-1964) believe in equal rights and opportunities, value personal growth, question everything, are team-oriented, and want to make a difference. Generation X (born between 1965-1980, or thereabout) values diversity, self-reliance, independence, and work/life balance. And finally, Millennials (born roughly between 1981-2004) are high achievers who find motivation in the amount of satisfaction they get from performing certain tasks, and are very competitive and extremely tech-savvy.
Of course, it’s problematic to paint an entire generation with the same brush, but you’ll likely find shared qualities that are more common among one generation than others. A staff comprising a rich mix of age demographics will yield an array of attributes that work together in a team environment to wonderful results:
• Competence (Baby Boomers and Generation X)
• Good communication skills (Baby Boomers)
• Ambitious, but looks to workplace for direction and to help achieve goals (Millennials)
• Live to work; loyal to careers and employers (Baby Boomers)
• Innovative, outside-the-box thinking (Millennials)
• A focus on results (Generation X)
Further, you take the strong work ethic and willingness to take on responsibility of the Baby Boomers and add to it the results-driven attributes of Generation X along with the desire to please of the Millennials, and I’m willing to bet this diverse team would outperform one formed exclusively from a single generation.
Back to your hypothetical chauffeurs’ generations—did you guess correctly? Adam is a Baby Boomer; Charlie is a member of Generation X; Ben is a Millennial—and each one would be a valued team member!
"As we like to say ‘in the real world,’ not everyone neatly falls into these categories...”
But will all those different personalities working in one place have the potential to be detrimental to the team? Absolutely! In an article from The Daily Muse, Lindsey Pollak writes: “Millennials are often frustrated by their older co-workers’ late adoption of technology and social media, while Boomers complain that Millennials demand success from day one, eschewing the need to ‘earn’ respect, responsibilities, or perks.” And what about their communication styles? From texting Millennials to Gen Xers actually talking on their cellphones to Baby Boomers reaching for a landline, each of these styles of communicating has its own benefits. Texting communicates quickly and efficiently; talking on a cell facilitates conversations on the go; and sitting at a desk on a corded phone allows for calm, person-to-person interactions with minimal distractions. With understanding and the desire to learn from each other, we can see our differences as strengths rather than problems to be solved.
This all looks good on paper, but we must remember we are talking about human beings. It’s easy to generalize and label but that’s just what they are—generalizations. As we like to say “in the real world,” not everyone neatly falls into these categories. The best way to handle the differences is to understand and get to know your employees. Communicate with them in the manner that is most comfortable for them. Provide rewards that mean something to them. And finally, embrace the differences—each generation has something to learn from the others. [CD0517]
Christina Fiorenza is the HR director for The LMC Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.