Generations in the work place - The Explorer: Voices

Generations in the work place

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Posted: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:29 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

A generational shift is taking place in the workforce as economic conditions force more seniors back to work. Younger employees are finding it necessary in ways never imagined to make adjustments because of older co-workers.

For example, seniors have an intense desire to please the boss, workaholic mindsets and actual appreciation for having a job that provides necessary income. On the flip side, those carrying AARP cards are also resetting their workplace mentalities by accepting younger employees as peers and oftentimes as bosses. But younger workers don't necessarily see themselves in one job for life, and most still view each job as a stepping stone to something better, more financially rewarding and aligning with their true purpose in life.

As diverse generations more often encounter one another in the workplace, the requirement to comprehend and appreciate what drives each one is crucial to getting along and performing as a team. According to behavioral scientists, one of the first acknowledgements is the recognition of differences in personal values. Interestingly, once the various generational employees take the time to learn what drives them, they realize the bottom line is nearly identical — a need to feel respected and valued. Once that comes to light, many preconceived notions vaporize.

But getting the diverse workforce to sit down and discuss their differences isn't easy and doesn't occur automatically. Here's a brief overview of the various generations now functioning in today's workplace.

The "silent generation" was born 1925-1942 and entered the workplace at a time when employees simply did what they were told by their bosses or managers; no thinking required, no questions asked, absolute loyalty demanded, and team players were the only ones rewarded. This generation is known for gaining consensus, facilitating and listening.

Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964 and estimated at 76 million strong, always have been intense competitors among themselves and others for everything from personal and professional relationships to education, achievements and hobbies. Although ardently competitive and confident, they hold ethics and values in high regard.

Boomers are workaholics and define themselves through career accomplishments. Interestingly, this generation excels at team building. They tend to "job hop" due to cyclical economic events and have acquired diverse experience to the workplace. Freewheeling lifestyles with minimal financial encumbrances are preferred, and they're averse to excessive rules.

Generation X was born between 1965 and 1981. This group encountered some of the most challenging formative years of any generation. Known as "Xers," they grew up at a time when influential government and corporate icons made a lifestyle of lying, cheating and resigning in disgrace. Understandably, this generation is skeptical, decadent and overly protective in the workplace. They inherently distrust big corporations and don't consider any as being permanent or a career. Having endured workaholic parents and watched as they suffered through failed careers and marriages, Xers are constantly in search of balance in their lives regarding work and play. This generation despises shift work and overtime, is comfortable with technology, and maintains a distinct line between work and personal life.

The Millennial generation or "Millennials," born after 1982, are the most overlysupervised generation in history, growing up with their days filled with adult-directed lists and schedules. Millennials are also overly protected and considered as being soft in the workplace, avoiding confrontational situations with bosses, co-workers and subordinates. The defining event for this group was September 11, and they possess a strong sense of nation and patriotism. They consider occupations such as law enforcement, firefighting, military service and the medical field to be courageous, and they're actively involved in community service and want to pursue volunteer activities that make a difference.

Millennials match Baby Boomers in number. Because of current economic conditions, the millennial work mentality is being forced to reset to compete and accept less than desirable jobs with long hours and low pay just to get along. They're extremely competent and reliant on technology but limited in direct communications skills.

This is one of the few times in history when multiple generations are being forced to go along to get along in order to survive the deep recession. Many are retooling their skills, both technologically and interpersonally. To say there's no workplace tension between the generations would be wrong, but effective communication is becoming the imperative fundamental for transition, productivity and longevity. The key to success for all workplace employees is finding common ground on which everyone can communicate and function on an effective level.

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