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Leadership in the Four Generation Workplace

7 min read

It’s Crowded in Here!

For the first time we now have four generations in the workplace—presenting interesting challenges and opportunities to leaders, managers, and their teams. It is important to understand the nature of these challenges as we present a brief overview of traits specific to each generation.  What’s even more important is to have some insight (and apply it) to each generation’s interactions, issues, styles, experiences and preferences.

Who are the four generations?

You might see some variation in the labels and dates used by other writers, with the following commonly understood:
 The Silent Generation (a.k.a Traditionalists) were born before 1946
 Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964
 Gen Xers were born between 1965 and 1980
 Millennials (sometimes called Gen Y or Generation Next) were born after 1981

Why is it important for leaders to pay attention to the four generations?

First of all, in many cases, they are not getting along in the workplace (and elsewhere). They don’t communicate well with each other. It’s important to observe the distinction between Age vs. Generation. Different generations care about different approaches to the same problems—at different times. Generational context is not about age, but common experiences. Do you remember “…don’t trust anyone over 30“?  We heard that back in the 70s, and it was said by the Baby Boomers.  Well, the Boomers retain many consistent generational traits, but now the youngest of them are over 40 and the oldest over 60.  What a shock!

Leaders, managers and coaches do well to understand the dynamics and the potential outcomes of generational interaction and sometimes misunderstanding. When generations fail to communicate effectively in the workplace we may see a negative impact on the bottom line—through retention rates, grievances and complaints, tangible and intangible costs, morale, etc. We need to ask powerful questions around issues related to the generations, such as:
 What is the impact of differing communication styles?
 What are some pitfalls in inter-generational communications–professionally and personally?
 How can we enhance cross-generational communication?
 How do we recognize each generation, if not by age or hierarchy?
 How do common experiences shape the personality of a generation?
 What are the challenges of leadership, management and team development that pertain to each generation?
 What can we learn and apply from the formative years of each generation?
 What are their favorite forms of entertainment and recreation?

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