Managing Generational Differences

Managing Generational Differences

We hear so much these days about how the millennial generation is affecting change in the workplace. It is said as if this is something new or unique. But are the generational difference between Millennials and other generations that different and do we need to reinvent the workplace to conform to their values or should they conform to meet the organization’s values?

I come from Generation X. We are the group that came after the baby boomers. Born from 1965-1984 (source: The Atlantic Magazine).We were known as being disaffected, spoiled, and moody.

Shaped by the post-Vietnam environment where nothing was to be trusted. The government was defined by Nixon and the 1970’s. Our views of marriage were formed by the high rates of divorce we all lived through. We saw our parents as having given up on their values and beliefs in exchange for a comfortable, mundane suburban existence.

Existential angst became our stock in trade. We were rebelling against everything and nothing. And in the end, we became more like our parents. The revolution was without substance.

It is popular for my generation to dismiss Millennials as lazy, spoiled, and lacking a sense of what the real world is about.The truth is Millennials want the same thing we wanted – a sense of purpose and place in this world. After all isn’t that what we all want. And while my generation sacrificed our values for comfort, and ultimately created the generation we now despise, they really aren’t so much different from us.

So how do we manage differences between the generations in the workplace?

First, we have to start by remembering what it was like being young and idealistic. If we can remember back that far we will probably realize that we weren’t so much different.

Put yourself in the younger person’s shoes. Try to empathize with them and understand what it is that motivates them. Give them credit for having something valuable to offer.

If you’re dealing with an older workforce the story is the same. Understand that where they are at in their life is different from where you are at, and because of this, you are going to have different values and different expectations. But because they have different values doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything of substance to offer.You need to find places of common ground where you can come together no matter the generational milieu that each person inhabits.

Find what motivates and then use that to engage and get the best out of that person. This isn’t about manipulating people. It is about taking a genuine interest in learning about a person and then tailoring your management style to meet their needs.

There is no one style that works for all people or all generations. You need to keep an open mind and be willing to change your style to suit the need of your employees.

So that begs the next question – should the workplace conform to meet the needs of the individual or should the individual conform to meet the values of the organization? The answer is yes – both.

An organization, like an individual, must define its values and then set an expectation that each member of the organization should conform to. There needs to be a recognition that part of what an individual is getting paid for is to support organizational values. This does not mean they need to compromise their personal values, they just need to adapt to the values of the workplace. If they can’t then they need to seek employment with a business that more closely aligns with their own personal values.

At the same time, the organization needs to be adaptable to understanding the needs of its employees and make accommodations that remain in line with organization values. Managers should be open to, and respectful of, the individual’s values.What does that mean for you as a manager? First, you need to support the company and promote its values. Second, you need to understand your people’s needs, and where you have the ability, be flexible with them to meet their needs.

There is no need to be stubborn and put up barriers to people because you don’t agree with all their values.

Instead, we must use our empathy, the skill of understanding other people’s needs, and consider their point of view. Sometimes just taking the time to understand, even if you can’t give them what they want, will win their motivation and dedication.

There will always be generational differences in the workplace and each generation will always see the others as somehow inferior to their own. This is human nature. As managers, we need to engage and understand all the different generations within our workplace and find ways to motivate and get them all to work together in a harmonious manner.

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