Overcoming the Generation Gap
Posted for the Post-Crescent
There is now an age gap of nearly 50 years between the oldest and youngest members in today’s workforce; as a result, several generations needing to work with individuals they may not understand or see eye to eye with. Conflicting ideas, stereotypes, and exposure to substantially different life circumstances have contributed to intergenerational conflict, which is often a major area of stress for businesses and families today.
Veterans (born before 1946), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1979), and Generation Y (1980-2000) comprise the generations represented in the present workforce. Each of these groups view work, family, and life in general very differently. Each have different motivators, values, and goals. As a result, managing a highly functioning work environment in which members from various generations coexist can be incredibly complex.
Knowledge and recognition of generational differences has greatly helped me in my work and interactions with individuals from other generations. Being conscious of a particular generation’s preferred style of communication for example (such as email, text message, phone call, or face-to-face interaction), can make a world of difference in how effective the communication is and how the message is interpreted.
Veterans and Baby Boomers prefer and value a more personal form of interaction, such as face-to-face or telephone communication. They did not grow up with the technology that Gen X and Gen Y use with ease, often while juggling other tasks simultaneously. I couldn’t imagine having grown up completely without computers, cell phones, or the internet, and having to learn how to use these devices as a fully grown adult. While there is something to be said about the impersonal nature of a text message or email (not to mention the fact that things such as sarcasm may be difficult to detect), these forms of communication can be responded to quickly and easily. The schedule of the other individual is not a factor since the other party can respond at his/her convenience, and time isn’t wasted on things such as phone tag.
In working with my mother (a Boomer) as part of an intergenerational team, we often deal with conflict between generations in the workplace. One of the issues we frequently encounter in family businesses is the presence of varying degrees of openness to change. In family business transitions, we often see the older generation being very resistant to change, while the next generation is extremely open to change. This frequently leads to conflict around important business decisions, especially in growing companies. Change is often essential for survival, but it must be controlled change.
Coming into privately held companies or family businesses as an intergenerational team and family business ourselves, my mom and I are able to approach many issues from unique angles. We model healthy conflict for our clients, help facilitate difficult discussions, determine effective decision making processes, and improve communication skills throughout all levels of the organization.
Strategic Solutions Consulting