The term ‘generation gap’ refers to the different values and attitudes between one generation and another. The term is most commonly used to describe the gap between parents and their children. A generation can be defined as a group of people born during the same period, sharing the same attitudes and values. The attitudes and values of each generation are shaped by the experiences of each period.
Although generation gaps in your team can present challenges they can also be an advantage to your team. Having a team that consists of various age groups offers a combination of varying perspectives and experiences that are extremely valuable. Learning how to deal with the generation gaps in your team is vital in becoming a more effective team manager.
In this article, we will look at the various generations you may encounter in your team, and help you understand what motivates them and how to get the best out of them. First we will be taking a closer look at the four generation types you are likely to encounter, which are: Traditionalist, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y.
The Traditionalist Generation
The team members of this generation were born before 1946 and are therefore the oldest generation you may encounter in your team. The background of this generation is marked by extraordinary social issues such as the Great depression, World War I and World War II. The traditionalists were brought up in tough times. They grew up in a society where individuality was not celebrated, and traditional values in terms of structure and gender roles played an important part. Men mostly dominated the workplace in this generation.
Traditionalists are usually hard workers since they grew up in a time when jobs were scarce. They see hard work as a way to get promoted, and they tend to be extremely loyal. They tend to be submissive as they were taught to respect authority. They are good team players and are not likely to initiate conflict in the team. Traditionalists tend to resist change; they value safety, security, consistency and commitment.
Traditionalist make up a small percentage of the working population since most of them are retired. Those that are still working are near retirement and their enthusiasm for working to the top may be less than that of other generations. Motivating the traditionalist team member may be difficult at times but they will usually conform and strive to keep the status quo.
Characteristics of the traditionalist generation:
- Like to be recognized for their hard work.
- They see work as a team effort and avoid conflict where possible.
- They may struggle to learn new technology.
- Prefer lecture style training over web-based.
The Baby Boomer Generation
Members of the Baby Boomer generation were born between 1946 and 1964. The name is derived from postwar efforts to integrate soldiers returning from war and resultant increase in childbirths. The Baby Boomers grew up in an era of prosperity and growth. They experienced the ‘year of innocence’ during the 1950’s and saw modeled lives portrayed on television. During the 1960’s they experienced social changes like Civil Rights, the war in Vietnam, and rebellion against established institutions. The Baby Boomer generation represents a departure from the traditional and a movement towards changes in society, beliefs and attitudes.
Baby Boomers are known to be confident, and they are willing to confront and challenge the status quo. They tend to be well educated, hardworking, and they define themselves by their careers. They are likely to support change and will advocate for change if they see the change as beneficial. Baby Boomers are usually motivated by incentives and tend to work long hours.
Characteristics of the Baby Boomer Generation:
- They are career focused and enjoy achieving at work.
- Like doing intricate work that makes a difference.
- They are very competitive and equate their worth by their status and position.
- They are resourceful.
- Prefer a hierarchical work structure.
- Tend to favor face-to-face interaction over emails, text, etc.
The Generation X
Generation X includes those born between the mid-1960’s and the mid to late 1970’s. This generation grew up in a time where there was a shift from manufacturing to servicing. They grew up with technology as part of their lives; they have seen the evolution of technology and understand its origins. They experienced hard times during the 1980’s. Many were raised in two income or single parent homes and were placed in day care. They developed new characteristics that went against the Baby Boomers.
The Generation X team members tends to be individualistic and independent. Their flexibility enables them to change jobs more frequently than the previous generations. This generation is more ethnically diverse and is generally better educated than their previous generation. They also believe in a having a better balance between work and home life than the previous generation. These team members are willing to try new things and welcome new technology. Being generally tolerant of other lifestyles, they foster a more accepting environment at work.
Generation X team members enjoy freedom and responsibility but politely reject authority and fixed work schedules. They do not like being micro-managed and thrive in an environment where they can complete their tasks without too much supervision. Technology is seen as a welcome tool to make them work more efficiently. They adapt well to change and are key drivers of change. This generation likes a dynamic work environment with a healthy balance between work and home life.
The Generation Y
Generation Y includes those team members born between 1974 and 1994. They had technology as a normal part of their lives and generally do not know what it is like to be without computers, cell phones and other electronic devices that the previous generation had to incorporate into their lives. This generation thrives on electronic communication and prefers it to face-to-face conversation. They are likely to prefer the internet as a means of learning and making purchases. They are used to getting what they want when they want it. They are used to the speed of technology and expect things to be done faster and better.
Generation Y tends to value family over work and look for flexible schedules and a healthy balance between work and life. They are confident and are achievement orientated. They question authority and challenges ideas and motives. Team members from this generation are likely to enjoy meaningful work and want to keep on learning new things. They work well in a team and seek positive reinforcement from others. They appreciate feedback and like being kept updated on the latest developments. They thrive on recognition and praise for their work.
Generation Y team members are more likely to be motivated by benefits that give them the ability to have flexible schedules than monetary benefits. They expect new challenges and crave opportunities to achieve things. They are loyal and seek to be included in important activities. They will call attention to themselves by suggesting bold ideas and challenging the status quo. They see mentoring as normal and appreciate guidance and development.
Communication across the Generation Gaps
Being sensitive to the way you communicate can assist you to bridge the generation gaps in your team. When you make your communication brief and to the point, the older generation will appreciate the clarity and the younger generation will appreciate the brevity. It also helps to adapt your method of communication to its intended audience. The older generation will, for example, prefer that you speak to them in person while the younger generation will prefer an email or instant messaging. If you have to communicate across the various age groups by email, make yourself available for follow-up by a phone call or face to face visit. Keep your communication professional across the board. It will show the older generation that you respect them and set an example for the younger generation on how to communicate professionally.
The Benefits of Generation Gaps in your Team
A variety of generations in your team gives you access to diverse perspectives and ideas. Some of the benefits of generation gaps in your team include:
- Gaining a good perspective of the external culture.
- You can generate more ideas based on varying experiences.
- The older generation can help the younger generation improve their social skills.
- The younger generation can help the older learn how to leverage technology.
- Generation gaps create a mentoring environment.
The sharing of knowledge between the generations helps to create an understanding and collaborative environment.
Here are some ways to promote the sharing of knowledge in your team:
- Set up a blog where a topic can be introduced and the team can submit comments.
- Form focus groups to resolve an issue or generate fresh ideas.
- Create a newsletter where employees can share thoughts through an interview.
- Place an ideas box where employees can submit their ideas.
Image Source: Quinn Dombrowski