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Four Generational Clash Points at Work

An argument can be made that the different generations represented in the workplace view work in four ways that can create conflict that must be managed to ensure full engagement.

Learning how to work, live and play together is crucial, and every manager must master ways to bridge generational gaps. Managerial survival calls for a coordinated, collaborative strategy to leverage each generation’s strengths and neutralize its liabilities.

Clash Point #1: How We View Work

By 2021, Gen X will be the senior members of the work force, and both Gen X and New Millennials will be in leadership positions. Big changes are already beginning to appear and, in 10 years, the world of work will be significantly different.

Older workers talk about “going to work” and have always had a specified work schedule like 9-to-5. In the manufacturing economy, everyone used to be under the same roof, at the same time, to achieve maximum productivity, but times—and jobs—change.

Younger workers view work as “something you do,” anywhere, any time. They communicate 24/7 and expect real-time responses. The rigidity of set work hours seems unnecessary and even unproductive in the information age.

To younger workers, success isn't defined by how many hours one spends at a desk.Success is defined not by rank or seniority, but by what matters to each person individually. Younger workers want to cut to the chase and define their true value. They don’t want to be paid for time; they want to be paid for their services and skills.

For younger employees with working spouses and children, work-life balance and flexible conditions have greater priority. Is someone who arrives at 9:30 a.m. necessarily working less hard than those who arrive at 8:30 a.m.? Differences in generational attitudes must not interfere with progress and productivity.

Clash Point #2: Communications

Ask anyone over the age of 40 about younger workers, and you’ll hear stories about texting, cell phones and ear buds. Common complaints include:

  • They can’t spell or write.
  • They multitask, so I’m never sure they’re paying attention.
  • They’re attention-deficit kids, unable to focus for long.
  • They expect instant feedback and email responses.

These tech-immersed young workers are just as frustrated with older workers, who respond days later and think setting up a team meeting is the answer, when a few text messages could get faster results.

Older workers can’t expect the newer generation to digress into the past. Technology needs to be understood and used by everyone to improve productivity.

Communications and relationships remain essential, regardless of how technology is used. Both sides need to use and benefit from each other’s strengths in this domain.

Clash Point #3: Meetings

Older workers expect a phone call or visit on important issues and will immediately schedule and plan a meeting to involve significant stakeholders. This frustrates younger workers, who want to meet on the spur of the moment, as soon as possible.

They see nothing wrong with texting superiors and peers instead of scheduling face-to-face meetings, and they like to communicate and solve problems virtually. When faced with a need to meet, they try to contact everyone immediately and begin videoconferencing, chatting, texting, talking and tweeting—often all at the same time.

Older colleagues prefer to find a time and day that fits everyone’s schedule—which can delay meeting for days or weeks. They fit things into their routines and calendars. To Gen Y, the ritual of workplace scheduling is stifling, unproductive and a waste of time.

The younger people may have a point. But to older colleagues, a seat-of-the-pants approach is irritating. They also have a point: It doesn’t give them enough time to think things through, nor to adequately prepare for a politically influential outcome.

Clash Point #4: Learning

Older generations are linear learners, comfortable sitting in classes, reading manuals and pondering materials before beginning to implement new programs.

Newer workers learn “on demand,” which to Boomers means they just want to “wing it,” figuring things out as they go.Gen-Y learning is interactive, using the Internet, Wikipedia and blogs. They rely on Google and web searches to find  answers.

Gen Y doesn’t hesitate to call a friend or send an email directly to the CEO.They ask questions and get their information instantaneously.They are easily bored by training sessions, manuals and programs that spoon-feed information over time.

One of the most important questions to ask is “How can managers help the different generations learn how to work, live and play together to bridge generational gaps?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching as part of their high performance leadership development program.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help you better understand generational differences. You can become a leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist, executive coach and trusted advisor to senior leadership teams. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies and law firms assess, select, coach, and retain emotionally intelligent leaders. Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

For more information, please go to http://www.workingresources.com, write to mbrusman@workingresources.com, or call 415-546-1252.

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