Terri Williams, MSM, MBA, ICF-PCC, CPDC, EMCC
Senior Consultant, Corporate Class, Inc.
For almost 25 years, our work environments have included three generations in the workplace functioning side by side.
With so many generations in the workplace, it is critical to understand generational differences, the strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies of each, to balance interpersonal dynamics and power relations at work. For example, we often see conflict around technology, but it goes far beyond that. The conflict on this topic opens the areas of communications, work style, and work ethics, which are key sources of tension between the generations.
Why should you care about generational dynamics?
- To engage others and create working environments in which people feel a sense of belonging
- To motivate others and create working environments in which people want to do their best
- To navigate and build constructive and effective relationships with all team members
- To leverage and be aware of differences to develop successfully as contributors and team members
In our rapidly changing world today, employees are struggling with several generational challenges ranging in clash points involving stereotypes, burnout, collaboration, communication, culture & engagement, empowerment, feedback, formality, loyalty, mentorship, motivation, organizational structure, trust, and work ethic. Since COVID-19, over the last three years we have seen each of these clash point areas play out in-decision points involving remote/hybrid work environments, employee advocacy, loyalty, deference, and most recently, recession and layoffs. For example, contemporary issues such as employee advocacy and psychological safety appear as important priorities for the Millennial and Gen Z workforce. Meanwhile, deference and loyalty are priorities for the Baby Boomer and Gen X employees. These often are clash points because of the importance and relevance of each and its impact on employee satisfaction, engagement, and belonging within the work environment.
Research has been done on the primary categories of generations dating back to the 1900s, which include: The Greatest Generation, Silent Generation/ Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials (Generation Y), and Generation Z. The generations that are currently in our workforce includes:
• The Greatest Generation – born 1901-1924.
• The Silent Generation/Traditionalists – born 1925-1945.
• The Baby Boomer Generation – born 1946-1964.
• Generation X – born 1965-1979.
• Millennials/Generation Y – born 1980-1994.
• Generation Z – born 1995-2012.
Our work environment influences and impacts how we think, how we view societal issues, and or what we contribute to the world.
Research by demographers and ethnographers share that each Generation has completely different experiences, mainly based on how they experience the world and what influences were occurring in the world. In his book, The Fourth Turning, author Neil Howe, notes that the most impactful experience that has shaped each generation in his research has been conflict and war, which has resulted in nation reshaping. These differences have opened the door for change. Changes in perspectives, loyalties, expectations, contributions, and commitment.
Dr. Brene Brown teaches us that the biggest fear within organizations is nostalgia. Nostalgia from the perspective of the way things used to be. This also speaks to our work contributions, specifically, will the work that I do be relevant, will I be successful, and or will I survive in the new world? In other words, we interpret these differences as differences in our human experience and disruption to our certainty and order.
The heart of our human experience is to be in connection with others. Through each of our lenses, we explore our attitudes and behaviors as they are influenced by our location in history and how we interact with the world. Every generation spans roughly 20 years. Understanding others requires more work in learning about one another and ourselves, which may jab a bit at our sensitive areas, like our values and our passions. This is where we can dive into our skill of “empathy.” Empathy is a practiced skill that requires us to intentionally make space for a person to share their experience and or perspectives. After we hear a person, we then need to believe what they told us. This may sound simple, but it is an important action that we may bypass with good intent. This is not a time to challenge them on their experience, marginalize their experience, or dismiss their experience. And finally, we need to thank them for trusting us with the story of their experience. By demonstrating empathy we are supportive and treat others with compassion. The ability to empathize with others will help you cultivate and successfully navigate generational relationships at home and work.
Want to learn more about Leveraging Generational Skills for a more impactful workplace?
Invest in team workshops!
Corporate Class offers leveraging generational skills training workshops where our expert facilitator works with your organization to deliver high-impact content tailored to your business.
Contact the experts at Corporate Class to learn more about our workshops that will help you break down barriers.