Jan. 26, 2006 -- Much like gender, race, ethnicity and sexuality, a generational identity distinguishes each of us. Because four generations are now working together, companies are starting to amend their diversity training practices to include generational differences for the purposes of creating a more inclusive, tolerant workplace.
Here's an overview of the generations, and their workplace values and attitudes.
Represent 5 percent of work force
The matures came of age when loyalty was all-important, and when many jobs took you from "cradle to grave," so to speak. They thought that long service to a company should be rewarded with raises and promotions, and that the company would take care of them even after retirement. They're respectful of company hierarchy, but resistant of "new ways" of doing things.
Represent 45 percent of work force
Boomers saw the shift from loyalty and longevity when the recession hit, and were faced with layoffs and downsizing. In addition, with many of those 51 million boomers hitting the job market at the same time, competition was fierce. They became workaholics who believed that the number of hours worked was most important, even more important than productivity. Later, that 'work 'til you drop' attitude made boomers question whether it was all worth it.
Represent 40 percent of work force
They saw their parents burn out and put a premium on a balance between work and life. They value their own lives and respect productivity over the long haul. They've seen companies go under so they are loyal to people rather than companies and even approach work as independent contractors, whether they are on staff or are consultants. Plus, they demand open communication at all levels.
Represent 10 percent of work force
These are babies of the group in more ways than one. They were doted on as children, and expect the same from their employer -- meaning lots of feedback and recognition. They value individual relationships and want personal fulfillment from their work.
Since we're now seeing all these diverse ages and approaches in the same office, both employers and workers must handle these fundamental differences.
Speak everyone's language. Just as you'd speak French in France, adapt your communication styles to the person or group you're addressing in a manner that suits them, not you. Communication is one of the biggest problems in an intergenerational workplace. Older workers have a longer attention span and are often more patient, which strikes younger workers as being slow. Younger people speak differently and slang like "Hey, she looks phat." Even though she means P-H-A-T, as in cool and hip, not F-A-T, this will likely be overheard by an older worker as an insult.
Remember that age is just a number. Both workers and employers must look beyond age. Competence and ability no longer correlate to how old you are or your years of experience. No more "He's just a kid" or "He's past his prime" prejudices allowed. Respect for other people's ideas and input -- no matter what their age -- is critical.
Encourage candid conversation. If you're having difficulties with a younger boss who belittles you, face the problem head on and encourage candid conversations. Generational issues should not be a taboo subject. If you feel you're being undermined or ignored because of your age, talk directly to the person and let him/her know that you value their opinions and you aim to have a strong working relationship -- and that you'd appreciate their respect for the skills you bring to your position. You can say: "I don't appreciate when you belittle me because I take great pride in my work. If you have constructive feedback, I'd welcome it." Keep the dialogues going because most relationships can be repaired through candid conversations.
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