The Generation Gap: Is Gen Y A Square Peg In A Round Hole? - Renascent Consulting

The Generation Gap: Is Gen Y A Square Peg In A Round Hole?

Each generation has different attitudes, behaviors, norms, and expectations.  Managing a workforce with mixed age groups can cause frustration in the workplace; however understanding each group’s customs will help your managers be more effective. 

Although there have been a variety of generations in the workplace for nearly 100 years, the youngest generation – Generation Y (those born after the early 1980s)— and their managers in the Baby Boomer generation (those born between 1945 and 1964) possess inherent characteristics that clash.  The Boomers tend to be workaholics that enjoy autonomy, while Gen Y seeks a work–life balance with collaboration in the workplace.  The Gen Y workers want to work in teams and have social interaction throughout the day, while their managers see this as unproductive and inefficient.

Another major difference between the Boomers and Gen Y-types lies in their communication style.  The Boomers enjoy meeting and talking on the phone, while Gen Y employees are much more likely to write an email or send a text.  The lack of personal communication frustrates the Boomer manager.  The manager thinks “Why is my new young hire emailing me with problems when our work spaces are only 10 feet from each other?” At the same time, Gen Y gets annoyed when their manager wants cell phones put away – to Gen Y their phone is a way to stay connected with the world and quickly respond to problems that come up during the day.

The Forbes article, Gen – Y Workforce and Workplace Are Out Of Sync, notes that by 2025 Gen Y will make up approximately 75% of the workforce.  This means as a small business owner you have no choice but to make some changes to accommodate your new workers.  So how can your organization overcome these generational differences?

  • Educate – Training and education are the most efficient ways to bridge generation gaps.  It is difficult, if not impossible, for people to embrace what they do not understand.  The owner of one of our clients was recently forced to confront this issue when the first Gen Y worker was promoted to the management team.  All of the sudden, the management team was comprised of three people representing three generations:  a Baby Boomer, a Gen X, and a Gen Y.  Through a Management Training Series the gaps were bridged: behaviors changed and trust was developed, collaboration began, and silos faded away.
  • Embrace Technology – Give your Boomer managers the resources necessary to feel comfortable with the new technology their Gen Y workers will be using.
  • Allow different work styles – Gen Y prefers collaboration – so let them work together! A good office set up may include private offices for the Boomer managers and a work floor with cubicles for your younger workers.  The good news about their different styles is that most of your Gen Y workers will be in entry level to lower management positions, which means they will be quite comfortable working with their generational peers.
  • Be flexible – Although Gen Y are not the workaholics that Boomers are, that doesn’t mean they won’t put in the time necessary to complete their work.  Gen Y simply wants to be able to complete their work on their schedule, not the accepted business schedule of 8am – 5pm.  These workers feel confined by a set schedule, and are often less productive without deadlines to aim for.  Give your Gen Y’s hard deadlines and then allow them to complete the work on their time, but within your time frame. 
  • Create a competitive advantage with your different generations – We know the Gen Y is good with technology, and they naturally will keep up on trends.  These workers are perfect for managing your social media sites!  In fact, Cisco recently published its Connected World Report, the results of which are quite shocking. Out of 2,800 college students and young professionals under the age of 30, (hailing from 14 countries), approximately one in three said he/she would prefer social media freedom, device flexibility and work mobility over salary level in accepting a job offer. As well, 64% of college students ask about social media usage policies during job interviews, and approximately 24% say it would be a key factor in accepting a job offer.
  • Foster a company culture based on acceptance – Give your employees training on the differences between their generation and other generations, especially in departments that have multiple generations working within it.  Training will alleviate some of the misunderstandings and frustrations that are inherent with both groups. 
  • Provide recognition of specific achievements and contributions  Whether you like it or not, Generation Y is very accustomed to receiving recognition when they do a good job.  Whether or not this is your style, the research is overwhelming that recognition is directly linked to employee engagement and employee satisfaction.  Tell them when they do a good job!

The great news is that your hard working Boomers are also excellent mentors – they have good business ethics and do not see technology as the only way to accomplish the goal.  Your Gen Y team members are equally valuable as they keep up on the latest forms of technology and their teamwork often fosters creative ideas.  As your employees learn more about their colleagues’ strengths, they’ll be able to work together and increase productivity.

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