five generations in the workplace - six people sitting on chairs

No matter your age, location or job title, there are now five generations in the workplace. Among them are the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z.

And with these generational groups interacting on the job, issues are bound to arise among and between them. From the hangar to the cockpit, from the scheduling desk to the back of the aircraft, you are likely witnessing conflicts.

We’re human, after all. And organizations comprising humans will hit a few bumps on the road to workplace harmony. One of the ways to help achieve that harmony is to adopt a “seek to understand” mentality.

A Look at the Five Generations

Almost needless to say, there are many different perceptions and viewpoints between the five generations. Each group has its own values structure. And the key to resolving conflicts among them is to learn what each group values. Then, once you understand the differences, you can rethink your programs, processes and communication.

Below you’ll find characteristic values for members of each generation: 

Silent Generation/Traditionalists 
Born 1925-1945, ages 78 and older

  • Thinks entitlement is something one earns based on seniority and tenure.
  • Believes in coworkers “paying their dues”; often irritated when others waste their time.
  • Finds that their career identifies who they are.
  • Appreciates manners, respect for authority and personal relationships.
  • Considers his/her word their bond.
  • Values paper documentation, formal dress, social etiquette and organizational structures.

Baby Boomers  
Born 1946-1964, ages 59 to 77

  • Values hard work–either because he/she wants to or must; doesn’t assume he/she is planning to retire.
  • Defines his/her own status and importance by tenure and rank. 
  • Accepts people who perform to their high standards.
  • Sees hard work as the way to get ahead; started the “workaholic” trend.
  • Values peer competition.
  • Embraces a team-based approach.
  • Is used to a “one-size-fits-all” workforce protocol and procedures.
  • Sees value in time at one’s desk; struggles to see the value in working a flexible schedule.
  • Expects less experienced workers to learn by trial-and-error and “pay their dues.” 
  • Gets frustrated if not consulted about his/her expertise and experience.
  • Has a great deal of respect for authority.
  • Keeps private and doesn’t share his/her inner thoughts.
  • Respects what came before (history matters).
  • Values active listening and eye contact (put away your phone).
  • Is adaptable to technology.

Generation X  
Born 1965-1980, ages 42-57

  • Is digitally savvy; tends to have a focus on him or herself more than the group.
  • Has clear goals; values professional and career development vs. loyalty to organizations.
  • Dismisses procedures and solutions that are based on what “we’ve always done.”
  • Values flexibility; may under-value the efforts of others putting in physical time at work.
  • Prefers independence and solving his/her own problems.
  • Wants access to information and loves plenty of it.
  • Requires feedback and uses it to adapt to new situations.
  • Works hard to move up the ladder to achieve personal time.
  • Looks for more efficient ways of working.
  • Prefers quick “sound bites,” and email or text vs. meetings and printouts.
  • Underappreciates tenure, which may lead to seasoned workers feeling discounted.
  • Prefers autonomy and feedback; give him/her choices for how to get work done.

Millennials/Generation Y 
Born 1981 to 1996, ages 27-41

  • Values positive reinforcement at accelerated rates; desires immediate frequent and systematic feedback.
  • Needs input into how he/she is doing; works independently.
  • Prefers action; accept challenges; likes new opportunities and challenges.
  • Embraces technology. Appreciates it for its efficiency, cost-savings and convenience—often at the expense of face-to-face, personal experiences.
  • Values multi-tasking and a team-driven approach to work.
  • Expects full integration and fast promotion; is put off by barriers to information and rewards. 
  • Accustomed to positive feedback and rewards for success. He/she can be confused and frustrated by organizations slow to promote. 
  • Uses internet research to solve hard problems; struggles to analyze complex questions.
  • Wants to know big picture goals and the implications of his/her tasks and roles.
  • Is open-minded to new ideas and change; wants to learn.
  • Appreciates diversity, equity and inclusion.

Leaders are often confounded by Millennials. Author Simon Sinek explains how to best understand this misunderstood generation in this 15-minute video excerpt:

Generation Z/Gen Edgers/iGen
Born 1997 to 2012, ages 11-26

  • Values interconnectedness; has created expansive social circles due to social media.
  • Fears missing out; expects instant feedback from managers regarding his/her performance.                                                                             
  • Goes to the source; often bypasses middle management to get to decision makers.
  • Tends to be cynical and private, with less use of social media than others.
  • Expects remote work options given his/her “always connected” mentality.
  • Expects diversity, equity and inclusion.

Some of the human skills that are under-appreciated and under-trained for in this generational group are: How to have difficult conversation, how to have an effective confrontation, and how to give and receive feedback.

Again, author Simon Sinek explains the challenges of working with Gen-Z in this 3-minute video:

Find Common Ground

Now that you know a bit about the five generations and their unique characteristics, the question is how can you effectively communicate with them? How can you build processes and train employees from all five generations?

What is imperative today, is being able to understand these five distinct mindsets well enough to be able to consider their differences and validate them.

How can we bridge the gap between generations and find common ground? For starters, we need to refrain from judgments and seek some common ground.

When we realize what we have in common, we hopefully can meet each other in the middle. Following are ways to connect with those from other generations. We can accomplish this by focusing on:

  1. The importance of family
  2. Work/life balance
  3. Appreciation and recognition of a job well done
  4. Desire for effective leadership
  5. Flexible work arrangements
  6. The desire to have a voice and involvement in decision-making
  7. Financial reward for a job well done
  8. A sense of purpose in their work
  9. A dislike of generational stereotypes

Make an Action Plan

Historically, organizations have focused on sharing what they want employees to know, follow and learn. They do this instead of determining what employees’ value based on their age and/or the manner in which each group learns best. Who prefers training in person? Who prefers a handout? Who prefers digital-only materials or online learning?

So, what does this all mean for you if you’re charged with leading a multi-generational team? For starters, it means that you must realize that there’s no longer a “one-size-fits-all” means of communicating, training or leading.

Take for example the task of training 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. You might offer one-on-one learning and group training, for example. Or 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 might view things through a different value lens and have a different communication style.

By the same token the more senior staffers on your team will take a different tack. They’ll very likely appreciate hard-copy handouts, books and manuals, as well as “lessons learned” stories told in a team environment.

Meanwhile, the younger generations might resist sitting at a desk and filling out a five-page risk assessment. Or even more so, they will extremely dislike returning from a trip only to write, proof, print and distribute a Hazard Identification Tracking Form. On the other hand, provide them with an app and they’ll complete the information much more quickly and enthusiastically.

Remember This

The important thing to remember with such a plethora of differing ideas, ideologies and mindsets, is that you must develop a system that enables considering them all. And it must be one that each member can comfortably work within, and one in which new hires can comfortably integrate.

If you’d like more information about bridging the divide, please contact us, and consider reading our job search tips for Millennials.

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