Bridging the Gap: Engaging Four Generations on the Job
No matter your age, location or job title in business aviation, you’ve likely noticed a generational shift on the hangar floor—even in the cockpit. Perhaps you’ve witnessed an undercurrent of conflict among professionals from different age groups or disconnects in communication that can lead to bigger problems?
If you’ve experienced a few bumps along the road to workplace harmony, and you’re not sure how to go about making positive changes, not to worry. You’re not alone.
In fact many aviation organizations are finding it difficult to keep up with the changing needs of members of the four generations that work in the hangar and cockpit every day.
As you likely have witnessed, the generational divide affects many areas of the workplace—from internal communications, to process, and on to workplace training.
A Look at the Four Generations
There are many different perceptions and viewpoints between and among the generations, which include: the “Silent Generation/Traditionalists,” the “Baby Boomers,” the “Gen X’ers” and the “Millennials/Gen Y’ers.”
The key to gaining understanding and buy-in during the change management process is to customize your programs and processes to address the characteristics of these four unique employee groups:
- Silent Generation/ Traditionalists (Born 1925-1945)
- Boomers (Born 1946-1964)
- Gen X’ers (Born 1965-1980)
- Millennials/Gen Y’ers (Born 1980 to 1995)
And, not to complicate matters, but there’s yet another generation coming into the workforce in the next few years called “Gen Z’ers” or “GenEdgers.” These are young people who were born after 1995, and are just now graduating from high school.
The First Step in Bridging the Divide: Know Your Audience
It’s important to note the differences based on each generation. Below you’ll find generalized values for each group:
- Privacy: Keeps private and doesn’t share inner thoughts.
- Hard work: Believe in paying their dues; often irritated when others waste their time; feel that their career identifies who they are.
- Trust: Considers his/her word their bond.
- Formality: Values paper documentation, formal dress and organizational structures.
- Authority: Has a great deal of respect for authority.
- Competition: Values peer competition.
- Change: Thrives on possibilities and constant change.
- Hard work: Sees hard work as the right thing to do and the way to get to the next level of success; started the “workaholic” trend.
- Teamwork: Embraces a team-based approach to business; doesn’t depend on the command and control style of the Traditionalist.
- Anti regulations: Isn’t focused on conforming to rules; will challenge the system.
- Inclusion: Accepts people who will perform to their standards.
- Independence: Has clear goals and prefers managing his/her own time and solving their own problems rather than through a supervisor.
- Information: Wants access to information and loves plenty of it.
- Feedback: Requires lots of feedback and uses it to adapt to new situations.
- Quality of work-life: Works hard to move up the ladder so that they can have more personal time for themselves and family. Would rather find quicker, more efficient ways of working.
- Communication: Prefers quick “sound bites;” email or text is preferred over long meetings and printed documents.
- Positive Reinforcement: Values positive reinforcement at accelerated rates; desires immediate frequent and systematic feedback.
- Autonomy: Needs input into how they are doing; wants to work with a good deal of independence.
- Technology: Valued tool for multi-tasking.
- Action: Prefers action; accept challenges; likes new opportunities and challenges.
Americans are growing older, more diverse, more digitally linked and more tolerant, according to BridgeWorks’ December 2014 blog entitled The Demographic Shift. In their post, I learned some interesting stats from these self-proclaimed “Gen Junkies” who help organizations bridge the generational divide. For example:
- 10,000 American Baby Boomers will turn 65 every day for the next 19 years.
- The number of people in the world over 65 is set to double within just 25 years.
- By 2020, half of the American workforce will be comprised of Millennials.
- By 2025, 75 percent of the global workforce will be comprised of Millennials.
- By 2018, Millennials’ earnings will outpace Boomers’.
- By 2042, people of color will make up the majority of the U.S. population.
Creating New Programs for Four Generations
Now that you know a bit about the four generations and their unique characteristics, the question is how can you effectively communicate, build processes and train employees from all four generations?
Historically, organizations have focused on sharing what they want employees to know, follow and learn—instead of determining what employees’ value based on their age and/or the manner in which each group learns best. As mentioned above, the Silent Generation, Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Yers all have different values, behaviors and expectations as well as differences in how they want to learn. For example, different age groups—especially younger professionals—demand that they “be heard” and have their opinions taken into account.
So, what does this all mean for you if you’re supposed to lead a multi-generational team? For starters, it means that you must realize that there’s no longer a “one-size-fits-all” way of communicating, training or leading.
Take for example the need to train your flight department team on a new process or safety system. You will be most successful if you’re able to communicate and teach in a multi-faceted way, such as one-on-one learning and group training, posting manuals online and making them available in print and providing tests in paper and online. While everyone might be committed to the same result, each group may view things through a different value lens and have a different communication style.
The more senior staffers on your team will likely appreciate hard-copy handouts, books and manuals as well as “lessons learned” stories told in a team environment.
Meanwhile, the X and Y generation will be more resistant to coming into a classroom, sitting at the desk and filling out a five-page risk assessment. Or even more so, they will very much dislike returning from a trip only to write, proof, print and distribute a Hazard Identification Tracking Form. But, give them an iPad application (“app”) and they will complete the information much more quickly and enthusiastically.
The important thing to remember is that you must develop a system that each member can comfortably work within, as well as one in which new hires can comfortably integrate.