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Four Generations, One Workplace
As business owners and managers, we are always interested in ways to create a better workplace and increase profitability. We’ve explored the importance of getting to know employees and co-workers communication styles to best match their skills with specific roles with the workplace. We understand that individuals possess varying skills based on culture, background, and life experiences. As business owners seeking to get the best from our employees, we strive to learn as much as we can about the people that work for us. Another set of defining characteristics that can be incredibly useful are the generational circumstances that helped to shape the individual.
For the first time in the history of the traditional workplace we have four generations attempting to work together to function as one organization. I don’t believe that it is always fair to use generalizations, but used properly a little information about the work styles and the influences of each of the four generations can be helpful in determining what motivates an individual.
There are generally specific traits, work styles and characteristics that each of the 4 generations exhibit. Let’s take a look at what they are and how we can best leverage the talents of each generation.
The Traditionalists (1909-1945)-This generation has seen hard times turn to prosperity. We are seeing fewer of them in the workplace but many of them that are in the workplace are holding prominent positions. Traditionalists are disciplined and still value a sense of company loyalty.
The Baby Boomers (1946-1964)-This generation needs little explanation as they still make up the majority of the workforce today. This generation is made up of people who are hard-working and competitive. They get things done. They sometimes expect others to do things the way that they do and don’t always have tolerance for others’ work-styles.
Generation X (1965-1978)-This generation of former latch-key kids is reliable and self-directed. They seek autonomy but still need to be told they are doing a good job. This generation is known for focusing on their individual career development and sometimes struggle to balance their independence and the goals of the organizations that employ them. They look for some fun in the work place and tend to prefer a more laid-back atmosphere. This generation will never accept “that’s just the way we have always done it” as a reason for anything.
Generation Y or Millennials (1979–)-This youngest generation of the workforce often gets a bad rap. They are a generation with some sense of entitlement. They often walk onto the job expecting to be CEO and have little interest in taking out the trash. They do however have tremendous strengths that make them valuable contributors to the team. They are incredibly techno-savvy. They will make suggestions that can streamline business. They do not fear change, are great at multi-tasking and love being part of a team.
Each generation brings with them unique talents and aptitudes. As a business owner or manager one of our primary goals is to understand each employee’s strengths and capitalize on them. This strategy has always been a win-win in that an employee playing to his or her strengths is going to be more productive and happier. Having knowledge of the general characteristics of each generation also gives employers the tools they need to match work style to specific tasks. Some of these differences can present frustrations and when that happens we have to look for ways to understand, work with and benefit from those differences. Employers can gain valuable problem solving skills by studying strategies for dealing with these generational differences and assessing how to bring about the desired results. There are resources available including workshops and specialized training to help employers and employees become familiar with these techniques. Examining the generational characteristics is just one strategy of gaining insight on how to bring out the best in that individual.
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