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Human Relations: Old School vs. New School

Understanding generational differences in the workplace is the key to harmony among staff and maximizing team performance.
BY Nicole King

Do you manage or work with someone that is either on their cellphone or doesn’t like to use technology as their first preference of communication?
Or how about trying to have a conversation with someone and the only information they can process is the first sentence of directions? If you can relate to any of this or have examples of your own, then welcome to the understanding of generational differences.

For the first time we have four different generations working side by side in the workplace. Understanding how to communicate with each other can be very rewarding and challenging when it comes to management, productivity, and retention. The four generations are as follows:

Name Year Born* Communication Style
Traditionalist 1945 or Before Write Me
Baby Boomers 1946 – 1964 Call Me
Generation X 1965 – 1979 Email Me
Generation Y 1980 – 2000 Text Me

The key to working and managing individuals within a multi-generational workplace is to first understand their communication style. So let’s take a moment to look at the old school vs. the new school. The reason behind that reference is because when you look at the traditionalist and the Baby Boomers they were the two generations that watched technology evolve into what it is today and have had several options when trying to use technology as a communication tool. The new school, which is comprised of Generation X and Generation Y, had been forced to only use technology as a means to communicate in their everyday lives. So what does that mean to you and why is important?

This traditionalist generation was born in the year of 1945 or before and grew up in an era where they had more of a traditional family. This is the generation that sat at the table to eat dinner together and had one TV in the house, if any. Going to college was a privilege because there was no system in place to make sure student loans were available like today. The type of telephone communication in the home or at work was a rotary phone; therefore, their preferred communication is short, to the point, and not with the use of email, text message or social media platforms.

This generation also was obligated to pay cash for what they needed or wanted so, when it comes to their spending habits, they tend to save money and are viewed as conservative spenders when managing budgets. When working with these individuals in the organization, they may resist using a lot of technology, smart phones, apps, emails, or digital filing systems to communicate, stay organized or run their team. They also view the workplace as an obligation and take a lot of pride in their sweat equity, and when you have to address this generation they like to be addressed one-on-one.

This generation also may view the new school employees who like to have work-life balance or use a lot of technology on the job as lazy and not focused. For example, I was in my bosses office, who is a traditionalist, and he was trying to explain some- thing he needed done. However as he was explaining things I was responding to important work emails. Even though I was working, my boss thought I was being very disrespectful and made a comment to let me know he was offended. So I have learned to just take a pad and pencil in the office and leave the phone on silent and not interrupt until he is done.

Baby Boomers
The Baby Boomers are the generation that is the first to arrive in the work- place and the last to leave. They were born between the years of 1946– 1964. Being “work-centric,” Baby Boomers are extremely hardworking and motivated by position, perks and prestige. Baby Boomers view work as exciting and an adventure and are loyal to their organizations. This is the generation where education was considered a birthright and was part of the first touch-tone phone revolution.

This is also the generation that implemented the buy-now-pay-later mentality with layaway and credit cards. Therefore, in the workplace, the Baby Boomers value working in teams, they tend to be the one to schedule team meetings.

Remember, this generation is loyal to the company and comes to work early, so therefore they may tend to put those expectations on their team. They are also motivated by job titles and monetary rewards. This is one of the many tools they use to measure how successful they are.

Now the downside to this generation is because they are so motivated by work and watched the use of computers evolve, they have taken a lot of time away from the home in order to provide for their families, which leads me to our next generation.

Generation X
Generation X is the generation of transition from the old school to the new school and was the generation to change the work- place environment. Generation X was born between 1965 – 1979, values fun and is skeptical when it comes to core values. Workplace loyalty is a relic, Gen- X’ers know that the idea of one company or employer for a lifetime of employment is outdated.

This is also the generation that was the first era of cellphone and internet usage. Some of you may remember AOL and the dial-up to get on the internet which meant you couldn’t use your house phone!

Generation X is considered the innovator of the term work-life balance where being at home with the family was very important to them, due to the results of having Baby Boomer parents who worked long hours and weekends. This striving for balance often labels this generation as the misunderstood slacker generation. The least wanted, least parented generation in recent history, Gen X is both 25% smaller than the Baby Boomer generation that preceded it and 25% smaller than the Millennial/Gen Y generation that follows it.

This generation likes to be expressive in the way of understanding why things works, so when tasks are delegated they may be the individuals known to ask “Why does it have to be done this way?” or “I know you want it this way, however can I do it this way?”

Generation X is known for their preference in direct feedback when giving criticism or encouragement along with the freedom of doing their delegated task using the strategy they choose. When it comes to education, college was their ticket to a better life, therefore this is the generation where they were highly motivated to go to college or a trade school because it was going to make them more money. This is one reason why Generation Y build their career plans around getting some form of education due to the success Generation X has had with their careers.

Generation Y
Welcome to the “ME ME ME” generation where it is all about them and you only live once so just do it. This generation of individuals was born between the years of 1980 – 2000 and technology is all they know and love to use. Social media is their preference of expression and being able to leave their signature on their work projects is an honor, because it is their work. When you have a generation that has grown up with cellphones, microwaves, and the convenience of student loans and scholarships why wouldn’t they want things to be about them?

Generation Y has always been able to cater things to themselves the way that advancement and convenience of technology has played in society, so therefore they will be required to continue that in their work environment. You now see three year olds with iPads and elementary kids with cellphones. Every college student has to have a laptop device of some sort and we now live in era where a house landline phone is almost nonexistent. Therefore, this generation is entitled and privileged to make things about them, catering to them, not because they are selfish like others perceive, but because personalization is what they know, so the more personable they can make their lives, the happier they are.

In the workplace, the Gen Yer can be at a doctor’s appointment and through the use of technology write a report or submit emails. So then they ask, why do I need to be in the office? Or if I work in an environment where I can’t leave then I should at least be allowed to make my own schedule as long as I am getting my job done right?

This generation values extreme fun, so therefore the more you can make the work environment productive and fun the more they are willing work harder. When it comes to loyalty, if they are not feeling valued, respected or like what they are doing is meeting their personal goals then, yes, they may be enticed to leave.

Money is a motivating factor, but time is just as valuable if not more valuable because time allows the freedom of choice. This generation has found ways to be successful without college through the use of technology, but has also found that college can be a great expense so if they invest their time in going they feel entitled to get a job upon graduation.

What to Do?
There are several of different strategies that apply to the workplace to be able to make sure everyone gets along and is productive. Here are some tips you can use to implement in any work environment that can create harmony.
(1) Match formality to the culture. When you put policies and processes in place, make sure it’s aligned with the culture of the organization and the environ- ment. If you are going to have a younger generation of employees then understand what keeps them motivated and allow some levels of flexibility in their work duties. The one-size-fits-all management style is a thing of the past.
(2) Use multiple communication avenues. Get to know your employees and understand their preference of communication. The key to a successful workplace is in good relationships. Technology is not the preferred method for everyone and even though it isn’t a one way street and everyone has to work together, know what someone’s level of comfort is and provide training and support if needed.
(3) Individualize your approach. Make sure you are managing and communicating to your employees as individuals and not based on assumption or your individual preferences. You may like to have all your emails to your phone, where another co-worker may like to leave work at work, so when they leave they don’t want to be bothered.
(4) Understand value differences. Know your employees’ goals, and what they are there for. Not everyone wants to move up and get promoted, not everyone wants to work with people, and some people like to manage people versus projects. Some individuals value time over money and like the option of working from home. Know who is on your team and where they want to be.
(5) Ask don’t assume. It is so easy to assume we know what others want based on the way we read into their actions. Like the example I gave earlier, my Vice President felt disrespected of me on my cellphone while he was talking. I felt as if I was being productive by listening and replying back to customer needs.
(6) Be willing to teach and learn. The day you become not able to learn or teach is the day that you are no longer an asset. There are always going to be different and new ways to accomplish things and every day technology is changing the way business is conducted. So embrace change, evaluate the resources and trends, and be open to acclimate.
(7) Acknowledge the differences. There are differences amongst individuals and that is a great thing. Now that four generations are working together, everyone brings something different to the table based on knowledge, experience, and exposure. So learn to acknowledge differences and respect it. Individuals sometimes think that you have to obligate those differences on others, and the truth is you don’t, but you do have to be aware.
(8) Don’t take it personally. For Generation Y this is a huge struggle because they are growing up in a society where they can personalize their experiences. However, when in the workplace all employees need to understand that there is personal preference and there is also organizational culture. Your personal preferences cannot always be implemented into the workplace because it may not be appropriate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t contribute. There are times when your voice will be heard and there will be times when you will have to go with the flow.

This topic is constantly developing with new literature everyday as things are constantly evolving. Remember at the end of the day everyone wants to be treated with respect and valued as an individual. There will be preferences and differences on how individuals relate and prefer to get things done. No matter what, everyone brings a value to the organization. ■

Nicole King, MBA, is the CEO of NK Enterprise Consulting, LLC.