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Multiple Generations in the Workplace – Five things every leader should know

By Merge Gupta-Sunderji, MBA, CSP

(691 words)

There has never been such generational diversity in the workplace as there is today. In fact, it is not unusual to find people from each of the four generational demographics – Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X’ers and Millennials – in a single department. In case you’re wondering, Traditionalists are those born before 1946, Boomers were born between 1946 and the mid-60s, Generation Xers between the mid-60s and 1979 and Millennials from 1980 to 1994.

Each generation brings its own values, expectations, habits and work styles into the mix, and leaders who can understand and appreciate each of the four generations foster innovation, better quality and greater productivity in their organizations. Here are five things every leader should know about the multi-generational workplace.

1. Deal with it!
Like it or not, the multi-generational workplace is here! Each age group brings its own unique outlooks and perspectives into the work environment and that affects how people relate to and work with one another. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that young people today will just have to conform to the “way we do things around here.” They don’t, and they won’t. Your competitors, who have already accepted this reality, will court and woo your best people away if you’re not paying attention. Plus if you don’t acknowledge and develop strategies to actively work with the differing generations on your team, you will be faced with unhealthy conflict, inefficiency, and eventually negativity.

2. Conflict happens!
Denying it will not make it go away! On the plus side though, inter-generational conflict is often predictable. Traditionalists find Boomers too self-centered, X’ers disrespectful, and often patronize Millennials because they remind them of their grandchildren. Boomers accuse the Traditionalists of inflexibility and being overly-cautious, brand all X’ers as slackers, and get irritated with Millennials who seem to require far too much attention. Skeptical and pragmatic Gen-X’ers evaluate the world on its competence , and so get frustrated with Traditionalists who shy away from technology. They hate being micro-managed by the Boomers, and resent the know-it-all Millennials for taking over the workforce! And let’s not forget the Millennials. These young, brash upstarts find Traditionalists too slow, Boomers too uptight, and Gen-X’ers too negative! The stereotypes exist, and these (in most cases, false) impressions stem from their diverse life experiences! The good news is that this conflict CAN be healthy, IF you understand and know how to work through the differences.

3. Assets come with liabilities!

Each generation brings strengths and weaknesses to the interpersonal and productivity balance sheet. Don’t inadvertently apply your value filter to everyone else, and don’t be quick to judge others who don’t think and act the way you do. As a leader, be an role model for openness and respect, and recognize that each demographic brings both assets and liabilities to the table.

4. Accentuate the positive, alleviate the negative!
Speaking of strengths and weaknesses, it is YOUR job to find ways to capitalize on the assets and work through the differences. This means not only understanding the differences between the generations, but also taking the time to get to know your employees individually. Your knowledge of generational demographics will give you a huge insight into workplace dynamics, but it is not a replacement for good leadership on a one-on-one basis. Invest effort in determining what each of your employees is good at, and then find ways to showcase each person’s talents. Assess their flaws and failings, and give them opportunities to improve in those areas.

5. Give respect!
Finally, always remember that understanding and respect will go a long way towards creating a positive and productive workplace that makes the most of what each person excels at and holds as significant. Be a role model to those you lead by demonstrating your commitment to this. Learn more about the other demographics and what motivates that turns them off. Do a generational diversity audit for your department (or organization) and determine what percentage of your work force is from each generation. If you are at a senior leadership level, review the makeup of your Board of Directors. Ask yourself whether you getting perspectives from all generations?

Merge Gupta-Sunderji, MBA, CSP, turns managers into leaders by giving them specific and practical how-to steps to create high-performing, productive, and positive workplaces. Contact her at or (403) 605-4756.

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