My Generation

Exactly which generation do you belong to? In the Big Book of HR, we talk about the challenges organizations face with employees from multiple generations in the workplace. Not long ago, we heard this was the first time in US history that there were potentially four generation at work (Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y or Millennials) and now we are looking at a fifth generation that really hasn’t been named yet. These are people born after 1991 and have been called Generation Z, Generation I or the Internet Generation. The recent economic downturn has also caused some Veterans and Boomers to stay in the workplace longer than planned—hence potentially five generations!

Working with multiple generations isn’t impossible if we take time to look for the common ground and where we have differences, to honor and respect the differences—not let them drive wedges between co-workers. It is also important to remember that not everyone who is part of a certain generation behaves the same way!

In the not too distant future, people born between 1980 and 2000 will make up the largest segment of the US population and, therefore, the workforce. This includes Millennials and Internets and anyone who manages people should take some time to try and understand where these folks are coming from. It is not an understatement to say that these generations have a much different approach to work than previous generations but there are some common themes as well.

Since a lot has been written about Millennials, I thought I would share a bit about the Internet Generation. They:

· Have never lived without the Internet
· Have never lived without the threat of terrorism
· Are more environmentally conscious then their co-workers
· Are amazing multi-taskers
· Are not brand loyal—get their product ideas from Facebook or Twitter
· Do not view privacy the same as previous generations
· Think email is too slow but they will adjust to using it in the workplace, if they have to!

Probably the most difficult difference that older managers (X’ers, Boomers, and Veterans) have to adapt to is that the Millennials and Internets don’t view work in the same way as some in the generations that precede them. They don’t see work as the main focus of their life and/or their identity and they certainly don’t see that loyalty to an organization pays off. They are more inclined to want to have a life outside of work that is meaningful—not that the rest of us don’t want the same thing—they seem to be better at making it happen.

These generations feel as if technology gives them a real edge in the workplace. They know how to maximize its effectiveness and can get work done in a shorter time period and they can’t understand why if their work is finished, they should stay around the office! Play time is now! This need to have more control over personal time can cause some anxiety on the part of senior management who like to see people at work. I once worked for a CEO who used to count the cars in the parking lot at 6 pm and would come in to tell me that people obviously weren’t committed to the organization if they weren’t staying late. My point was—is the work getting done and if so, who cares if people are working late, early or from home! The bad news is he isn’t alone in feeling like you need to put in long hours to prove your dedication!

In looking at the generations at work, keep in mind that the best way to manage multiple generations is to look for the common ground and bridge the gaps rather than focusing on the differences. For example, the Millennials need for work/life balance mirrors what Baby Boomers want—especially late in their careers. Boomers, Veterans and Millennials all share a desire to give back to the community. Understanding your workforce—what they value and what they need—can give you a real edge in building a successful organization!

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Managing people is the most challenging part of any leader's day. And that job certainly is not getting any easier. The Big Book of HR will provide any HR professional, manager, or business owner of any size organization the information they need to get the most from their talent. It is filled with information on everything from the most strategic HR-related issues to the smallest tactical detail of how to manage people.