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by Tia O’Shea

We’ve been shifting Dad from the old family home into a retirement village. It’s a tough time. Tough for me to realise the old veteran can’t really look after himself any more. Tough for him to realise he’s no longer the man in charge, and tough for the two strapping lads shifting the furniture, when some old codger is barking orders at them about not scratching the radiogram. Who listens to radio anyway?!

It got me thinking about the different generations in the workplace. About how different generations have different outlooks on work and how important it is for effective leaders, to know how to tap into each of these generations’ motivations. How to really connect. How to overcome the so-called “generation gap”.

It also got me thinking that, while there’s lots been written about the “Baby Boomers”, “Gen X” and “Gen Y” it is important not to categorise people just by the years they were born. We all need to be treated as individuals, even though there are benefits, by looking at the broader picture, to gain some different perspectives.

Each of the generations has benefits to bring to any business. Effective leaders understand who these different generations are, why and how they behave differently and know how to connect with them in the workplace.

Generations Definedtime ex

The “Baby Boomers” can be loosely defined as those born during the post-war baby boom, from 1946 to 1964. The world-changing events of this generation include; the assassination of JFK; man walking on the moon; the Vietnam war; smoking pot; sexual freedom; civil rights; women’s rights; the environmental movement; the Cold War and the oil shortage.

Baby Boomers tend to be experimental, individualistic, free spirited and distrustful of government. They enjoy competitions, hard work, disdain rules and, fight for a cause.

They also make up most of senior management and are not looking forward to retirement.

“Generation X” refers to those born between 1964 and 1980. The notable events, as this generation grew up, include; widespread drug use; divorce; fractured families; working parents; racial strife; AIDS and economic uncertainty. They tend to be resentful of what they’ve inherited from previous generations.

Gen X tend to distrust authority, are reactive, pessimistic, self-opinionated, creative, resourceful and self-reliant. They’re strong on relationships and rights.

They’re also sandwiched between Baby Boomers not wanting to let go and the cooler, tech-savvy Gen Y.

“Generation Y” has just arrived at adulthood, being born somewhere between 1980 and 2000. The notable events as this generation grew up include; the end of the Cold War; MTV; costly education; universal personal computers; the internet; widespread drug and sexual experimentation; mobile phones; instant messaging and social networking.

Gen Y is seen as ambitious for personal wealth, brand conscious, having limited job loyalty and being exceptionally technology savvy.

Surprisingly Gen Y is least concerned about the environment.

Let’s not forget the generation before either, sometimes now referred to as the “Veterans”. They grew up during the Great Depression and World war II. The Veterans are formal, private, believe in hard work and trust in authority and the social order.

It could be summed up that the Veterans “work and work”, the Baby Boomers “live to work”, GenX “work to live” and Gen Y “live and work”

Generations Led

The first thing wise leaders notice is that the mission statements and corporate values of most organisations have been defined by Baby Boomers. Often the wording and even the intent is misunderstood by those generations that have followed.

There is often a gap between expectations and behaviours. Baby Boomers pursue their career, whereas Gen X likes to intersperse some work experience with lifestyle events, often cross-cultural. Gen Y often begins with, and stays with, part-time employment. Baby Boomers are used to turning up and doing as expected. To connect with and motivate Gen X and Gen Y, you may need flexibility on hours of work, attendance, procedures and even training expectations.

“Accountability” has a different meaning to the different generations and so clear definition of roles and responsibilities has become even more important. This provides clear benchmarks for performance and with Gen X and Gen Y it’s important to involve them in creating these definitions.

Generally people do want to “make a difference”. A Veteran will work as they’re told to; Baby Boomers will work to achieve success; Gen X will work to win recognition; and Gen Y will work to create outcomes.

Ultimately what all generations expect from their leaders is to feel valued for their contribution. The different generations typically have different values and for leaders to motivate they need to tap into these values.

Veterans Baby Boomers Gen X Gen Y
privacy competitions entrepreneurial spirit support
hard work hard work independence positive attitude
trust success creativity diversity
authority team work information lifestyle
social order social causes work-life balance technology
honour flexibility recognition team work

A project group with mixed generations can be a powerful team if briefed appropriately. Effective leaders will outline the steps towards the goal to include the Baby Boomers; tell the group what needs to be done, rather than how it’s to be done, to fit in Gen X and provide opportunities for variation to loop in Gen Y.

As the project evolves Baby Boomers may need formal whole team meetings and progress ladders, to show who’s doing well; Gen X informal meetings with verbal recognition and Gen Y one on one chats, emails or text messages. Success for Baby Boomers could be names on plaques; for Gen X being asked to be involved with other projects and for Gen Y, simply a day off.

Organisations that recognise the benefits of generational differences, educate and coach their managers in how to vary their leadership to suit. Sometimes it may mean redesigning roles to suit the make-up of the team. It usually means offering greater flexibility in employment contracts. The flexibility sometimes needs to extend to where the team is located, equipping them with the technology to work at distance and at any hour.

Generations Leading

As well as being led, each generation brings different styles of leadership.

Baby Boomers typically have a strong work ethic and are very company, even industry, focussed. Their motivation is often security or responsibility and sometimes their leadership decisions can be influenced by tradition or the reputation it will add to their career.

Gen X leadership is all about achievements and the team. Their motivation is usually about realising opportunities, change and progress, and sometimes their leadership decisions, can be seen as capricious, based simply on hunch and the observation or recommendation of others.

Gen Y leadership strength is allowing individuality and they strive for and encourage, creativity and variety. Sometimes their leadership decisions can be affected by the need to vary the experience and act quickly.

A final word

Because someone was born during a particular period doesn’t necessarily mean they think alike. History is littered with notable people “born before their time”. Likewise organisations are full of people who exhibit some of the characteristics of the generation they were born into, and some of the characteristics of the generations before their time.

Celebrate the generational differences, in the same way we celebrate different cultures, creeds, genders and races. Celebrate the individuals as well. Effective Generational Leadership is about adapting your style to suit your team and the idividuals.

Tia O’Shea

As Director of The Training Link, Tia O’Shea has spent the past 13 years working with a diverse range of organisations defining specific business and development needs and providing solutions that not only meet client needs but add value to their business.

Tia can be contacted on 1300 88 44 33

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