Clash of Expectations: 4 Generations in the Workplace

An employee laces up their athletic shoes and leaves work at 2 p.m. A manager tells an employee walking in the door at 8:02 a.m. "We start at 8 a.m." Another employee informs her restaurant manager she doesn't want to work on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Another employee overhears the conversation and shakes his head mumbling about "work ethic." What are the differences in expectations of the people in these scenarios? For the first time in history, four generations are working side by side in the workforce. This phenomenon is due to longer lifespans and people staying in the workforce longer due to the economy. For the first time, Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials have to learn to work together. From an employer's perspective, it is critical to recognize that these four generations come with different workplace characteristics defining both by chronological age as well as the generation in which they grew up. While the diversity of these generations can provide richness to the experience of having the four groups in an organization; not managing that diversity well can lead to a clash of expectations. Looking at each generation closer can reveal the differences they each bring to the workplace. Millennials/Gen Y: 1981-2000 Millennials, also known as Generation Y, grew up with a parenting style that included timeouts, no spankings, and parents who were very protective. They are the only generation to be asked where the family should vacation. They are extremely conscious of the global environment, and as a result are open minded, because diversity has always been a part of their experience. They are motivated by challenging, stimulating and varied work and are prone to being demotivated by boredom and a lack of challenges. Gen X: 1965-1980 Generation X, commonly known as Gen X grew up as latch-key kids. They experienced the highest divorce rate among their parents. They are self-sufficient, very independent and good at dealing with change. They are the most unsupervised generation in our history that also included permissive parenting. They are motivated by challenging, stimulating and varied work and demotivated by the inability to learn, grow and develop. Baby Boomers: 1946-1964 Baby Boomers are ambitious, and the most educated compared to the other three generations. They have a strong work ethic, are loyal to careers and employers, and the first ones to create the 60 hour work week. They are the original "workaholic." Baby Boomers are also motivated by challenging, stimulating and varied work and are demotivated by lack of appreciation, respect or recognition. Traditionalists: 1922-1945 Traditionalists are conservative, fiscally prudent, and loyal to their employers. They are punctual and have a great respect for authority. Traditionalists respond best to a leadership modeled in a command and control or authoritarian structured hierarchy. As with the three previous generations, Traditionalists are also motivated by challenging, stimulating and varied work; however, they are demotivated by feeling undervalued and unappreciated. The challenge for employers is to create opportunities for all employees which will allow each generation to feel valued and appreciated while being productive and a contributor to the success of the organization. In other words, create a culture of inclusion. To be inclusive is to involve, engage and value all people in an environment, regardless of their differences. Generational differences are but one area that needs to be considered when creating this culture of inclusion. Southern California Edison (SCE) has approached having four generations in the workplace, in several ways.

SCE believes that our employee workforce is one of the main drivers that make our company a solid leader in the utility industry. We believe fully that the diverse strengths and talents of our employees are a large part of our success. For SCE, engagement and inclusion are not just nice things to do; they are a business imperative and a distinct advantage for all those who count on us to perform: our customers, our shareholders, our employees and our communities. Through diversity and inclusion, we embrace new ways of thinking and doing; which means we keep learning, get better at our jobs, and give our customers what they want and need. References: Lancaster, Lynne C.; Stillman, David. When Generations Collide: Who They Are, Why They Clash, How to Solve the Generational Puzzle at Work. HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2002. Scheef, Devon; Thielfoldt. Engaging a Changing Workforce: Study of Four Generations from The Learning Café. 2008.

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