Four Generations In The Work Place
Managing four generations in one workplace has become a key issue in human resources, and while a mix of generations can be a source of inspiration, it can without doubt also represent a challenge. The four generations are often referred to and defined as the Millennials (born 1977-1998), Generation X (born 1965-1976), Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) and the Silent Generation (born 1933-1945). Different generations have experienced and gone through fundamentally different paths in life which have shaped their values and beliefs. The four generations will as such carry with them different sets of ethics, values and beliefs that they bring with them and apply in their daily work. Similarly each generation will also have communication preferences and corresponding communication obstacles that can vary from written letters, fax, phone, email, social media or instant messaging. Is the combination of four generations in a workplace doomed to result in conflicts?
A generation gap is caused by time and technology. In adulthood we lose part of our ability to relate to and identify ourselves with the young and up-coming generation. Generations have different communication styles, and taking into account rapid technological development, the gap widens with age difference. The Baby Boomers will classically experience social networking, blogging and instant messaging as communication obstacles, while these would be the preferred communication tools for the Millennials. In the next instance this will affect the way each generation communicate or prefer to communicate with each others, and within the organizational hierarchy. Misunderstandings and conflicts may arise when employees feel challenged or meet communication styles they do not understand or comply with. It can create scepticism or conflicts which in the next instance affects relations between employees.
Every generation have some kind of conceit they believe elevates them above what comes after. What unifies four generations at a workplace must necessarily be found in ethics and values imposed by the employer upon its employees – something amounting to a “universal” and unifying set of values and not unlike logic applied in many strategies aimed at handling conflicts in multicultural communities and settings. In many ways, various generations do represent various cultures. Having multi-generations at workplaces, challenge employers to work out various strategies, and many point out that misunderstandings and conflicts arise because of inability to communicate across generations.
So what does it take to create a generation-friendly workplace? Acknowledging that each generation can add value to the workplace is a first step. Human resource analytics have emphasized the need to combine the ethics and values typical for each generation into a “generation-strategy” valid at the workplace. This should ideally translate into a work environment perceived acceptable across generations. At a practical level employers may also, as suggested by some, develop internal strategies aimed at bringing all employees irrespective of generation into the same communication style and where employees become familiar with communication tools typical for each generation. To be familiar with all available communication styles benefits the individual employee as well as the organization, and while waiting for generation Z (born after 1997) we might as well swallow our scepticism and at least try to apply the communication tools that would help us understand our colleagues better and perform maximum at work.