Leading Multigenerational Workplaces

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By Dr. Sabrina Brandon Ricks, SBR Workplace Leadership Services

Did you know that there are currently as many as five different generations working for one organization?  You can imagine the challenge with ensuring everyone is satisfied, feels heard, and feels respected.  Society has changed greatly from one decade to the next, and depending in which decade someone grew up, it will have a strong influence on how what they prefer in the workplace and how they respond.  The differences now span approximately seven decades!  This is the challenge many leaders face today as they navigate the workplace.  According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), the five working generations include:

  • Generation Z (1997–2012)
  • Millennials (1981–1996)
  • Generation Xers (1965–1980)
  • Baby boomers (1946–1964)
  • Silent generation (born between 1928 and 1945)

It is helpful to have some knowledge about each generation to help management, leadership, and colleagues best understand how to interact with one another and what type of interaction will allow for the type of response one may be seeking.  For example, if you are not aware that baby boomers prefer face-to-face interaction and you keep sending them emails, then you will not understand why you are not getting an email response.  The baby boomer may not has seen your email and is not simply ignoring you.

According to workplace communication researcher Kira Copperman, here are some additional tips about each generation that is useful in the workplace:

  • Generation Z has never known a world without the internet and will mainly use it for everything, including communication (e.g., texts, real-time chats, video chats, etc.). This group prefers stories, information given to them in small chunks, working on tasks alone, and face-to-face interactions.  They also see the work structure as more egalitarian and are less likely to say sir, ma’am, mister, or missus.
  • Millennials want things to happen fast but they are transparent and appreciate transparency in return. They tend to share a lot about themselves which at one point led to the “Me Generation” tagline.  They also ask a lot of questions which led to the “Why Generation” tagline.  They prefer text messages and instant messaging for communication.  They like a hierarchical structure.
  • Generation X wants things to happen on their schedule. They greatly believe in the idea of work/life balance and believe that spending time outside of work is just as important as the time spent working.  They prefer flexible managers, clear directions, email communication, and a hierarchal structure.
  • Baby boomers prefer teamwork and collaboration for decision making and problem solving. However, they do not like open work environments and prefer to have their own office. Respect is important to them as well as a hierarchical structure where they are referred to as sir, ma’am, mister, or missus. They prefer face-to-face communication and are slow to accept change.
  • The silent generation may be retired and still working or close to retirement. This group prefers face-to-face interactions and teamwork.  They enjoy learning and are open to the idea.  Respect is important. They believe that due to their time on Earth, their wisdom and experience trumps your title.  Be careful that you acknowledge their life experience and treat this group with respect, and they will respect you in return.

If employees in organizations across the country would learn these distinct differences and apply the preferences accordingly, there could be much more harmony in the workplace.  The positive shift requires the willingness to be educated on the differences, discipline oneself, and dedication to continue learning as changes evolve to ensure everyone feels accepted in the workplace.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has been a theme in workplaces throughout 2020 and 2021; working on generational differences is a big start in the right direction.  Once these differences are addressed, the other challenges surrounding DEI will be resolved with less resistance and more understanding.  Contact SBR Workplace Leadership Services to learn more, to train your group, for executive coaching, designing curriculums for your team to teach, and completing educational workshops.


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