Control and Diversity 1
Generational Differences in The Workplace
Heather Copsis Organizational Communication Professor Baldrige April 22, 2010
Control and Diversity 2 Diversity in the workplace is common everywhere and can lead to many problems along the way. “When an organization commits itself to diversity, both challenges and opportunities must be anticipated” (Papa, Daniels, and Spiker, 2008, p.206). Diversity in the workplace can mean differences in gender, racial and ethnic background, ages, physical abilities, and classes. There can be positive and negative things that come out of diversity in the workplace. In this paper I will be focusing on the issue of age and its effect in the workplace. (Papa, Daniels, and Spiker, 2008). Understanding the way each generation is the first step, accepting diversity and differences, and communicated better can help the effectiveness of the organization and help reduce conflict. Looking at age from an interpretive perspective, there are many different worldviews and clashing values that are being brought together in an organization that has employees ranging from people in their 20’s to people in their 80’s. Obviously someone that is 20 is not going to think or see things the same way that an 80 year old is. “Age difference among employees will add to cultural diversity because of unique values and worldviews embedded in a varied age group” (Papa, Daniels, and Spiker, 2008, p. 208). There are four main age groups that are working in the workplace right now: Traditionals, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials (Papa, Daniels, and Spiker, 2008). Traditionals were born between 1925 and 1945. The Great Depression, World War II, and many other catastrophic events that happened in history influence people in this age group. People like former president George Bush,
Control and Diversity 3 Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, and World War II veterans fall into this group. They think that Baby Boomers are too blunt and very disrespectful but also too “warm and fuzzy.” They think that Generation X is unethical and impatient, and they think that Millennials are too distracted by technology (Papa, Daniels, and Spiker, 2008). Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. They are influenced by 1960s counterculture and enormous post-World War II generation make up this age group. People like Bill and Hillary Clinton make up members of this group. They think that Traditionals are the typical “old” people that are too conservative, inflexible, and too cautious. They think that people in Generation X are manipulative and selfish, and they think that Millennials lack focus (Papa, Daniels, and Spiker, 2008). Generation X were born between 1965 and 1975. “Generation X is not a monolithic group that can be defined by one set of principles: they’re different in significant ways from he generations that came before them” (Papa, Daniels, and Spiker, 2008, p. 208). People from Generation X are usually the ones that bring the new concerns into the workplace, “especially an emphasis on quality of work life, including the work environment and the nature of the work itself” (Papa, Daniels, and Spiker, 2008, p.208). Where as the generations before them viewed working as means of supporting retirement activity, Generation X seems work as ways to support their current lifestyle interest. People like Drew Barrymore and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin make up people from this generation. They
Control and Diversity 4 think that Traditionals are over-the hill, old, and rigid. They think that Baby Boomers are “disgustingly ‘New Age’ workaholics” (Papa, Daniels, and Spiker, 2008, p.208). They also think that Millennials are insufficiently rule-governed and too optimistic (Papa, Daniels, and Spiker, 2008). Millennials were born betweent1977 and 1998. They are both realistic and optimistic in their worldview and they celebrate diversity in all forms. “Millennials pride themselves on being self-inventive and individualistic” (Papa, Daniels, and Spiker, 2008, p.209). They live their life by seeking and rewriting the rules that will conform to their lives, rather then follow or reject current rules. They are used to change being rapid and believe that organizing will be much more spontaneous in the future. They live in a technology dominated world and believe that technology is what life is all about, not just something to be used. They multitask fast and expect to be nurtured because that’s what their parents did for them. People like Prince William of England and racecar driver Danica Patrick are people from this generation (Papa, Daniels, and Spiker, 2008). As you can tell, none of the generations think the same about things and all of them view each other generation differently and in a negative way. This is such a problem because “Our generation experiences strongly impact the social views opinions and financial attributes of the American population. Generational influences shape work ethic, comfort with technology and expectations of career, work and managers. If that isn’t enough, work/life preferences, views towards authority, reward preferences, communication styles and workplace needs follow
Control and Diversity 5 well-known patterns” (Reddick) All of these issue is something that a certain generation might have conflict with, so you can see why conflict would occur through out the workplace when you have four completely different generations working together. Something needs to be done so that each generation can work together, respect each other’s opinion and values, and continue to increase productivity. The first step is to understand. There are three main things that a manger should understand to help increase effectiveness and reduce conflict between generations: understand the different values, motivators, and preferences of each generation. “Learning about the differences among your employees, appreciating those differences and making an effort to interact with members of each generation in a way that suits their work ethic and communication style – at the same time turning those differences into strengths for your employee and your company” (Reddick). Yes, this is going to be hard and its going to take a lot of time and patience, but it’s a successful way to change the way things are done to help reduce diversity. There are also ways that you can try and understand and deal with
each different generation. Ellen Reddick, author of a newspaper article called “What you don’t know about generational differences in the workplace could cost you plenty” has tips to help each generation deal with the other. Her tips for Generation Xers to use with Baby Boomers are show respect and acknowledge the fact that you could learn something from them and also that you have less experience then them. Because Baby Boomers are not technology savvy, use face-to-face communication rather then via email or text. Unlike you they do not multitask, so give them your full
Control and Diversity 6 attention and try your best not to multitask while talking to them. Last, learn the corporate history, “learn what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong in the past – especially the lessons learned during the year” (Reddick). Tips for Baby Boomers to use with Generation Xers include being straight up. Get to the point when you have something to say and avoid clichés, buzzwords, or corporate jargon. Learn how to work e-mail and use it and only save meets for when face-to-face communication is needed. Give them some space, help them with directions but then allow them to finish things on their own. Understand the fact that the way that you worked your way up to the top may not be the same way they are doing, and they might be working less hours. Lighten up and remember that work can be fun! (Reddick). Tips for working with traditionalists are first and foremost honor and respect your authorities. They do and expect the same in return. Give them job security to make them feel comfortable. Use them as a resource and value their experience. Out of any generation, they are the most dedicated so respect that and praise them for that (Reddick). Tips for working with Millennials include asking them opinion, they love to work together and be a team member. Give them a mentor for them to value and learn new things from. Provide feedback, they are very used to getting this from their parents and expect it in the outside world. Challenge them and give them more responsibilities (Reddick).
Control and Diversity 7 “Employers can increase their bottom line and improve staff morale by acknowledging that people of different generations may have different approaches to work, career and communication” (2005). It goes both ways when it comes to understanding generations. The younger generation needs to value and respect the older generations, as well as the older generation needs to value and respect the younger generations. “By working toward understanding the different generations and the strengths they each bring to the workplace, you will be able to use your diverse workforce to its best advantage for your business and the bottom line” (Reddick). Also looking at things from both sides with help a lot, and actually finding out about what each specific generation feels and wants out of your company (Reddick). The second step is to avoid stereotyping. Although most generations have certain values and characteristics, not everyone in a certain generation is the same. The only way to find out is to simply ask. What do you value out of work? What are you working for? The director of product design at AchieveGlobal, Craig Perrin said, “Grouping people according to categories is not longer acceptable in the workplace” (Laff). A study was done to compare the four difference generations, they were asked to rank different categories in the workplace and the results were interesting. “Within most categories, the margin of difference between age groups was minimal, particularly in areas once believed to be influenced by an employee’s age” (CITE 2). The only category that had a big difference was directly related to ones age was the one that asked about the importance of opportunity for career advancement, every other age group equally values financial stability and new work experiences. It
Control and Diversity 8 human nature for stereotypes to survive even when date should put them to rest because blaming character traits is an easy way to explain circumstances (Laff). Each generation has something to offer and bring to the table that can help every other generation and the effectiveness of the organization. “Knowledge management (KM) was conceived as a Boomer management initiative, and Gen Xers were foot-soldiers. Social media, on the other hand, is being spawned by Gen Y, with Gen Xers serving as mentors, while they move into middle and senior management, according to “Social Media vs. Knowledge Management: A Generational War” by Venkatesh Rao and Generation Blend: Managing Across the Technology Age Gapby Rob Salkowitz” (Simons). Something needs to be done so that each generation is valued for specific characteristics they bring to the table. Understanding the way each generation is the first step, accepting diversity and differences, and communicated better to help everyone are just some of the ways that company’s can help reduce the differences between generations.
Control and Diversity 9 References (2005). Generational differences in your workplace. NZ Business, 19(1), 2. Retrieved from Business Source Premier database. <http://ezproxy.queens.edu:2159/ login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=15887909&site=ehost-live>. Laff, M. (2009). Closing the Generation Gap. T+D, 63(5), 20. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. <http://ezproxy.queens.edu:2159/ login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=39259759&site=ehost-live>. Papa, M.J., Daniels, T.D., & Spiker, B.K. (2008). Organizational Communication: Perspectives and Trends. (5th ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Reddick, Ellen. “What you don’t know about generational differences in the workplace could cost you plenty” The Enterprise 18-24 Dec. 2006. Simons, N. (2010). Leveraging Generational Work Styles to Meet Business Objectives. Information Management (15352897), 44(1), 28-33. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. <http://ezproxy.queens.edu:2159/ login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=47880713&site=ehost-live>.