Communication across generations – Part 2: Different generations have different values

What values do generations hold? How can we make them work for us in the workplace? Understanding the values can play to your advantage.

What values does your generation and other generations have? What values set a generation apart from another and are there any common values shared? The values or characteristics that each generation exhibits are not steadfast. These values and characteristics can cross generational lines and may change over time for individuals. However, you should take note of some of the values that run true for different generations. An article in the Wall Street Journal, “How to Manage Different Generations,” highlights the managing techniques used with different generations and how best to serve them, but the point is to not fall prey to stereotypes. Each generation does have tendencies, but each individual is unique.

There are a variety of generational differences charts that will give general guidance on topics like work ethic, leadership style, authority, communication, feedback, motivation and family life. These generalities can help guide you in your communication and understanding of how to work with others. It is similar to getting to know your teammate or opponent in tennis. Knowing their tendencies, goals, strengths and weaknesses will enable you to work better, feel more comfortable and allow you to benefit from each other. Michigan State University Extension suggests the following areas to consider.

Gen X and Gen Y may not have the loyalty to a company as did previous generations, compared to the traditionalists and baby boomer generations that entered into the workforce and stayed with a company for 30 years. The younger generations “work to live” versus “live to work.” They are not tied to a company as much as they are to an idea, mission, passion or what their career stands for. They look for purpose in the workplace, not just a paycheck. This can often lead to high turnover early on in a career, but the benefit is that they add to the workplace a balance of work and home life.

The younger generations seek this balance of home life and work life, but often mesh the two throughout the day. Although they may not hold an allegiance to a company, they push to have family time and a life outside of work. This can benefit the other generations by demanding more freedom in the workplace and more time off. That time off of work could add to a more fulfilled work life and less stress in the workplace for other generations too.

In “Managing People from 5 Generations” from the Harvard Business Review, Rebecca Knight outlines the management approaches to best serve a diverse workplace. She also makes a point to not dwell on the differences; accept them and possibly embrace them. A younger employee might expose an older colleague to find fulfillment outside of work or they may bring energy and meaning with a fresh perspective on their work. A younger worker may gain from an older colleague a stronger work ethic, become more optimistic or learn to put in a few extra hours to produce quality work; showing pride in the product.

How guidance and feedback is given will differ from generation to generation too. Feedback to baby boomers may only be needed once a year; they may seek a promotion, a new job title or a monetary reward. Gen Xers may need a little more than a once a year review, but still want the freedom to get it done their way with as little guidance needed. Their rewards may come in the form of allowing more freedom, not in what title they have. Millennials or Gen Yers may need constant feedback and recognition. They thrive with meaningful work.

There is also overlap in the values the different generations have. For example, both Gen Xers and millennials tend to “work to live,” but as baby boomers age they too want to find balance and flexibility in the workplace. The key is to gain an understanding of each generation’s needs and be able to accommodate. That can be a big task, but you will have help if they are the driving force and willing to learn.

In Part 3, I cover how to open up that understanding with mentoring and the exchange of knowledge across generations.

For more information on generational differences, review the generational differences charts from the West Midland Family Center or contact your local MSU Extension office. MSU Extension will also be hosting a Generational Differences Workshop May 5, 2016, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Detroit YouthVille Office, 7375 Woodward Avenue, Suite 1520, Detroit, MI, 48202. Participants will learn how to better understand the different perspectives of various generations and how these differences impact work style, communication, goals and outlooks. For more information on this workshop, visit the Generational Differences Event page.

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