Workforce generational differences can create challenges for small business owners.
Currently, we have five different generations active in the workforce. Each generation has different expectations when it comes to work habits. A generation is defined by a group of people that are in the same age range that were raised in about the same area geographically and experience the same life events. Parenting styles also play a part in generational traits. Generations can be divided into the following categories, birth years and traits:
Defining Workforce Generational Differences
Matures, 1900-1945 (The Silent Generation) They were influenced by the Great Depression, WWII and Communism. Due to the strength of the military, this generation rose in the workplace in the command-style management that made them respect authority based on hierarchy and protocol. They are practical, have a dedicated work ethic and show authority a great deal of respect. They believe in self-sacrifice and they are very conscious of money and value each penny earned.
Baby Boomers, 1946-1964 They experienced the opposite of the Matures as they grew up with unlimited opportunity. Television was a cultural experience, as was the Vietnam War, the needs of children and women, the Sexual Revolution and the Civil Rights movement. With population density the Boomers were forced to compete in the workplace, which made them work very hard. They are optimistic, and driven to do good work. They felt that what you do in your work defines who you are in life. They also treated money in a different way than their parents by spending more on non-essential things like recreational items.
Generation X, 1965-1980 (Latchkey Kids) This group experienced global economic erosion and saw how their parents’ jobs were restructured. This led to social problems such as higher divorce rates, rising crime and unwed births. They were introduced to the personal computer and saw the fall of the Soviet Empire. The Gen-Xers grew up self-sufficient with both parents working. They learned not to trust societal promises and that nothing is permanent. Gen X has a skeptical outlook. They consider themselves free agents that don’t respond well to micromanaging. They expect to be getting what they work for and want to be entitled to rights and privileges that they earn. This generation works for their lifestyle and have high expectations of those in leadership roles.
Generation Y, 1981-1994 (Millennials) This is the first generation that has been celebrated by their parents and extended family. They were raised by parents who over compensated their own broken childhoods by continuous praises and awards. They feel they are greatly appreciated by everyone. Gen Y was raised in a technological era where cell phones, the Internet and instant communication all emerged. They were impacted by 9/11 and the wars in the Middle East. They are confident, but not great problem-solvers. They don’t differentiate work and life as they feel their work should reflect their lifestyle. This group is greatly influenced by their peers and have the perception that everyone should be treated fairly. They do not value money, as it has been something that they come by from their parents or by chance.
Generation M, 1995-2005 (Multi-Tasking/Linksters) This group is just entering the workforce. They are mentally able to balance conversations and stimulations that are happening simultaneously. They are able to follow examples that they are shown. This generation does not respond well to criticism. They have been told that anything is possible and that they are not at fault when things go wrong. They are used to being a part of a team and they are involved with highly-scheduled activities. They do not think outside of the box very well and tend to struggle with how to handle free time. Their culture has taught them to crave attention and to be comfortable sharing private information about themselves. They have been impacted by social media and always having an electronic connection in some way and often more than one.
Finding generational harmony
In order to build a cohesive team in your business it is helpful to consider the generation that your employees fit into. Research shows that Boomers and Matures feel younger than their actual age. The younger generations do not share this feeling and often perceive or treat the Boomers and Matures older than they feel, often causing a great deal of animosity when it comes to working together.
Everyone must consider the different values and expectations. A Mature or Boomer will be respectful of the fact that you need to double-check to be sure that you are authorized to complete something. They have a respect for authority and find value in hierarchy-structured management. They are also more cautious and believe in doing things the right way first. A Gen X employee might be bothered by this and feel that a Mature or Boomer lacks leadership and decisiveness. Gen X questions those in charge and has learned to doubt leadership because of the failure they have experienced in the economy and government.