The Generational Divide: World of Work Survey Encourages Collaboration

Article ImageFrom recent college graduates to veteran employees, there are four generations in the work force today: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers, and Millenials. With each of these groups comes a different opinion on how to best get the job done. More often than not, these different views on productivity collide and affect more than just the process—they affect the results. As technology advances, it is difficult to reach all four groups effectively, but it is essential for productivity to reconcile generational differences and get every employee, regardless of his or her generation, on the same page.

According to information compiled from a variety of sources and used for labor-management workshops by the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service (FMCS), the differences in workplace expectations vary greatly from one generation to the next, which can be the cause of much workplace friction. For example, Traditionalists generally consider loyalty, patience, mission, and respect as the main values they expect from their workplace, while the Baby Boomers place importance on teamwork, long hours, hard work, and recognition. Gen X-ers consider competence, ongoing learning, informality, and feedback as important. Millenials, on the other hand, tend to think achievement, structure, collaboration, and mission are more significant work values. According to Randstad’s "2008 World of Work," the four generations of workers that comprise the U.S. work force rarely interact with one another and often do not recognize each other’s skills or work ethic. Certainly this can cause conflict, but when you consider that some workers were practically born with cell phones in their hands while others may still be struggling to use their TiVos, the disparities become even more evident.

The question of how to effectively manage the needs and desires of each generation remains a complicated matter, especially as technology continues to evolve. According to Dennis Kilian, education evangelist and VP of Safari Books Online, businesses have to consider "how we can use technology to make sure we are hitting a user’s comfort zone and present content that is user friendly." It is important to adapt the way content is delivered to the needs of each employee. For example, Millenials are more comfortable using instant messaging or a Facebook-style network than using email, while Baby Boomers are less comfortable with text messaging. Businesses must recognize that people are comfortable learning and communicating in different ways, and then explore the available options to deliver content to employees. The key, as Kilian describes, is to "take blended learning and package content that is applicable to the user." He continues, "It is important to present the content in a way people can get to and be comfortable."

David Meerman Scott, best-selling author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR and a contributing editor at EContent, echoes this sentiment, saying, "I think that there should be more options of ways to communicate the larger the company gets. Companies need to realize that different parts of the population communicate in different ways." For example, if a CEO needs to communicate important information to employees, it would be beneficial to give the employees options on how they receive this information. Instead of just sending out a mass email, perhaps the company could relay the information through the company’s internal social networking page, through instant messaging, or a video message. As Kilian explains, Safari Books Online is constantly looking for ways to package its content differently to meet the needs of users. With the increasing use of mobile technology, such as the iPhone, Safari is creating a program Kilian refers to as the Safari Bookbag, a program that allows users to access content through their iPhones or iPod Touches. It is this sort of adaptability that can benefit a company and address the generational gap.

It is also important to consider the different motivations for each generation. As Kilian explains, "understanding who is working for you and what they want to do" can make a world of difference. These motivations can range from maximizing income for a Traditionalist to getting chances to experience new things and having fun while doing it for Millenials. Once the motivation is discerned, finding the proper way to communicate becomes easier.

As Scott says, "It is a good idea for a company to adapt to different learning and communication styles. It is incumbent upon business leaders to realize people have different ways of communicating." While this realization is a good start, companies still need to reach across the divide. The inherent dangers of reaching each generation without alienating any can be mitigated. Providing options as to how content is consumed is just one way to provide the kind of flexibility companies will need to be successful on the ever-changing world stage. According to the Randstad report, central to successful employership is encouraging employee collaboration to achieve company goals, which relies, in part, on employers recognizing employee value, cultivating mutual respect, and generating trust throughout the organization.