In a world full of people with different experiences, attitudes and approaches, it’s only natural that you will occasionally run into someone whose personality does not quite mesh with yours. In general, this isn’t normally a big problem since you can choose to spend time with them or not. However, what happens when you are expected to not only interact with these people but also to be able to work with and alongside of them in a productive and efficient manner?
Today’s workers are already entering a tough environment with the changing global market and the uncertain rebounding of the economy. However, there is another concern gaining ground in the work environment that needs to be addressed. For the first time ever, there are at least three different generations (in some cases, four!) all trying to coexist in the workplace. In most work environments, you’ll find a workforce made up of Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Generation Yers, as well as a smattering of Traditionalists.
While every person is different, each generation has certain general characteristics and preferences that stem from particular shared experiences. Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y workers grew up during very different political, social and economical climates and these experiences have shaped their understanding of the world. We know that growing up in these environments help to define a sense of work ethic and different expectations of peers and supervisors. However, this is just the beginning of the differences between the generations and they’re important because they affect the ways we understand and interact with each other.
For example, two of the most marked differences between the different generations are their use of technology and style of communication. While Baby Boomers, on the whole, have shown a vague distrust for technology and prefer face-to-face communication, Generation Xers have adapted to technology and are comfortable with either face-to-face communication or online meetings. Generation Yers, have grown up with technology and most cannot remember a time without cell phones or instant access to the internet, making online meetings, text messages and emails preferable over face-to-face interaction.
You can see how these differences can help us understand how easily people can become frustrated with each other. If you are looking for a quick, direct answer to a pressing question, perhaps you prefer email. Imagine how frustrating it would be to have a long conference with your boss instead. On the other side, if you’re confused or uncertain about a project, a one-sentence email might not only be unhelpful, but would exacerbate the situation.
Besides these stresses, there are also organizational pressures. As the Baby Boomer generation gets closer to retirement, this will only become a more prevalent problem. How are we to deal with these multiple generations and all their differences?
Well, understanding and appreciating these differences is the first step. Take some time to learn about what each generation’s general preferences are and how to cater to them. However, don’t lose sight of the fact that generational characteristics are not all-inclusive and individuals have their own favorite ways of communicating and working. For those coworkers you interact with on a daily basis, talk to them and see what their preferences are. As generational tensions arise in the workplace, address them in a calm and mature manner so that everyone’s needs are met and everyone feels valued. While this diverse workforce could be difficult, we can instead turn it into a real advantage by utilizing the different talents and experiences available.
How do you deal with workplace tension between the generations?