Addressing Multiple Generations in the Workplace: Part 1

Picture the scene; you have a recent graduate working alongside her seasoned 58-year-old colleague on a critical project. Both are working toward the same goal, yet each come with a different set of expectations and views of the task at hand.

Stacy’s new ideas are clashing with what Bill’s many years of experience tells him and tensions start building. What happens next?

It’s safe to say that workforce trends have shifted over the past decade. For the first time in history, we have five generations working side by side; Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and Millennials.  Instead of embracing the many perspectives, we muse on how perceived differences of others hold us back from achieving “workplace Nirvana.” You’ve heard the stereotypes: Baby Boomers are stodgy workaholics, Gen X is callously indifferent, and Millennials are lazy with a false sense of entitlement. It’s safe to say that each generation brings its own priorities, interests and communication style.

Clearly, people of various ages view their workplace differently. However, this is not the likely culprit for generational conflict. The conflict has less to do with age differences than it does with miscommunication. Whether this multi-generational workforce is viewed as happy and productive or challenging and stressful is, in large part, up to one thing – conversations.

Think about it. No matter your age or your profession, the one thing you will have almost every day is a conversation with another human being. No matter the generation differences we all want to have a voice and be heard. Therefore, communication is increasingly important in present times. Yes, it is such a cliché term. Yet when you really think about it, each conversation has the power to either advance or derail teamwork and progress towards goals.

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Thus, when it comes to addressing five generations in the workplace, focus on the common daily activity each will have: conversations. Take for instance what Susan Scott of Fierce Conversations says:

“Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. While no single conversation is guaranteed to transform a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can. Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person. It could be. Participate as if it matters. It does.” 

Whether you are a Traditionalist, a Millennial, or anything in between; connversations are what bind people together in work and in life. How we approach our communication with others will be a decisive factor in our success. It is as simple and complex as that.

Too often people hastily enter conversations through a lens of “judgment” where we are bent on winning the dialogue. This is when we interrupt by talking over the person speaking, jump in with a declaration before the issue has been clarified, and/or respond quickly with little or no thought. The end result with this approach is never optimum.

What we should do is silence our inner biases so to enter conversations from a place of wonder and curiosity. This is when we resist our primal hard wiring of fight or flight and remain present in the conversation. We seek to understand the other person’s point of view. Rather than cast judgement, we work to identify why each side might see things differently. This is made possible when we ask questions to frame the issue(s) at hand.

Herein lies the key to addressing multiple generations in the workforce; train your entire organization how to approach conversations with more questions than declarations.

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Jim Carchidi

Jim Carchidi
Jim Carchidi, CSP, is the CEO of the JFC Staffing Companies. He can be reached at JimC (at) jfcstaffing (dot) com.

Jim Carchidi

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