Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Communicating with Different Generations

Last week I had the opportunity to facilitate a training to a group of trainers from credit unions around the state. The topic was “Generations at Work” and it discussed the characteristics of the four generations that are in our workplace today.

Before I go any further let me just make it clear that this is a topic I am extremely interested in. People routinely call each other ethnocentric but I think that most people are also generationcentric (if you will allow me to make up a word). In most work environments we deal with people from different generations on a daily basis but don’t seek to understand what influences their decisions. People routinely complain about working with different age groups because they do things different. Instead of trying to understand them they judge them based on their generation’s values.

So what defines a Generation?

A generation is defined by shared experiences in your formative years, which range from ages 8 – 23. Think about how events like the Depression, Vietnam, AIDS, and Video Games shaped the values of different generations. It is quite amazing just how much outside influences shape your personality.

Today’s workforce is made up of four generations (where ages are placed may differ slightly depending on what you read):
• The Silent, 1922 – 1943 (ages 62-83)
• Boomers, 1943 – 1960 (ages 45-61)
• Generation X, 1960 – 1980 (ages 25-44)
• Generation Y, 1980 – 2000 (ages 5-24)

Here is an example of a generation clash. The Boomers generation prides themselves on their work ethic (which is very strong). Their motto would be lets stay here and get the job done. They are the coworkers that put in 10 hour days five days a week.

Members of Generation X also have a very strong work ethic. However they place a huge value on work and family balance. They may be in the office for six hours and work from home for the rest of the day.

They are both doing the same amount of work but they just go about it in different ways. If they don’t seek to see what is important to each other they risk judging incorrectly. The Boomer might think that the Gen X employee isn’t carrying their weight because they don’t spend enough time in the office. The Gen X employee might think the Boomer is unproductive because they have to spend 10 hours every day in the office. The simple fact is they both have the same goals but they go about achieving them in different ways.

It was interesting to see how people reacted at this training. Many times people were quick to point out the positives of their generation but talk about the negatives of other generations. In order to communicate effectively with people from different generations it is important to find what that generation values. If you take this approach you will be surprised with how much more you are able to achieve.

Now I am not suggesting that everyone from a certain age group shares all the same characteristics. However the majority of people from a certain age group will share similar values. Imagine the power you have when you are able to communicate directly to someone’s core values.

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