In every aspect of society there lies some form of a generation gap, be it in fashion, music or language. It is a well-known and often highly parodied facet of society that has now become an area of concern to many companies and businesses as they try to assess and formulate strategies that will bridge the generation gaps in the work place.
There are four generation groupings that are to be considered: Veterans, or Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and the newer generation, Generation Y, or Generation Next. Of all the conflicts between generations in the workplace, perhaps the most volatile and difficult to strategize upon is that between the Baby Boomers and Generation Y To understand why these two generations are butting heads in the workplace, it's important to take a look at where each of these four generation groups stem from.
Veterans, or Traditionalists, compromise the oldest bracket of the workforce. At an average of 52 million of the population, Veterans are those born between 1922 and 1943, coming of age during and before the Great Depression. They have a work-ethic that makes them "solid, no-nonsense performers with respect for authority and who are repositories of lore and wisdom" (Zemke, 2001). They have the experience of the job and tend to "be more concerned with the 'big picture' issues" (ISR, 2003). While younger generations may condone their stringent work ethic and 'bullish' attitude towards changes in society, "This generation rebuilt America by partnering with institutions. In so doing, this generation fueled the economic boom" (Lancaster, 2002). Fifty percent of the male ratio of this generation group were war veterans.
Following in the chronological footsteps of the Veterans, are the Baby Boomers. Born between 1943 and 1960, they make up for 73.2 million of the population. They are the post-war babies that don't realize they are part of the biggest growing problem in the corporate workplace. "They invented "Thank God, it's Monday!" And the 60-hour work week. Boomers are passionately concerned about participation and spirit in the workplace, about bringing heart and humanity to the office, and about creating a fair and level playing field for all" (Zemke).
They grew up during Women's Lib, the space race during the Kennedy era, and the civil rights movement. They protested Vietnam, much to the fervor of the Traditionalists. They've transposed their generation's ideals into the work field where optimism, personal growth, health and wellness and their 'willingness to go the extra mile' are beginning to create a stranglehold over Generation X and in turn, Generation Y employees. Baby Boomers seem to feel they have no "job authority" (ISR) and "most Baby Boomers believe that they will still be working during their retirement years" (AARP, 1999).
Indeed, Baby Boomers perhaps feel they need to work during their retirement years to service two needs - they are after all, struggling to balance work and daily life, but "when asked to name the first thing that comes to mind when they think of retirement, "having enough money/financial security" is the number one response in an open-ended question" (AARP). For the Baby Boomers, it seems like a Catch-22 situation which may be the reason why they are such a problematic generation in the workforce.
Between the Traditionalists and the Baby Boomers there is very little friction these days in the workplace. Traditionalists continue with a 'head down, onward and upward' work ethic while the Baby Boomers continue to struggle to find a balance between making money and a 'stop to smell the roses' ideology. In the same respect, this can also be said about Generation Xers.
Generation X consists of over 70 million people born between 1960 and 1980. They are the most pessimistic about "their company's competitiveness in the market with late Generation Xers being most worried about job security" (ISR). They grew up during the energy crisis, as latchkey kids (thanks to their Baby Boomer parents' struggle to keep that work and play balance) and in turn "their need for feedback and flexibility, coupled with their hatred of close supervision, is but one of the many conundrums they present employers. At the same time, they are personally adept and comfortable with change" (Zemke).
This generation tends to think globally, be pragmatic and self-reliant, having managed to define the balance between work and play. Of the four generation groups, it is oddly the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers that appear to be bridging the gap as "emerging trends in both generations include a belief that work is important, that work-life balance is essential and that self-empowerment is key"(Lancaster).
Nevertheless, "the baby boomers are by far the biggest generation. And demographers say there are not enough people in Generation X to replace them" (Thompson, 2003). Beyond their social conflict there is a definite difference in work ethic between them. Theoretically, "Baby boomers live to work. Generation Xers work to live," said Chris Michalak, human resources consultant for Towers Perrin" (Thompson) which places them at odds with one another as they try to implement their own agendas.
The youngest generation in the workforce is that of Generation Y, also referred as the Millenials and Generation Next. Born from 1980, onwards, "they may be the smartest, cleverest, most-wanted small humans to have walked the face of the planet" (Zemke) and are an "optimistic bunch who express doubt about the wisdom of traditional racial and sexual categorizing" (Zemke). They are the generation that have grown up with Harry Potter, computers, multiculturalism, school violence and election 2000, where "more than 3000 voters who thought they were voting for Al Gore ended up punching the wrong hole - for Pat Buchanan" (Moore, 2002).
Generation Y are probably the saving grace of the workforce with their desire to work and abilities to exert change, not only in the workplace, but also in society. They bring with them not only a fresh outlook, but the technological know-how to get the job done - faster, better and with fewer egos being bruised or inflated.
In order to bridge the gap between these four groups, corporations and businesses need to define what they know about them, since it is easier to tackle the problem if one knows the 'enemy's weaknesses and strengths. Strategies to downsize senior employees not only cripple a community but also an institution that should otherwise be finding a way to retain the wisdom and experience brought into the dynamic by Traditionalists and Baby Boomers. "Employers are laying off senior employees. Instead, it would be prudent to adopt creative and unique strategies to retain their knowledge and experience -- and gain a competitive advantage" (Lancaster).
Nevertheless the glass ceiling formed by Baby Boomers casts shadows on the generation behind them - Generation Xers, who are not only pushing against this ceiling and trying to gain seniority in the work place, but are also being pushed on by the coming Generation Nexters who have more computer skills and fresh ideas. "Employers need to plan to retain and leverage older workers' experience, especially because fewer people will be entering the workforce in the coming years" (Lancaster).
Generation Xers are highly creative and are a group that show more initiative than the others, but "research suggests that Gen Xers may also be concerned about the control that the Baby Boomers have over their corporate futures" (ISR). It would be beneficial for corporations to instill more opportunities for Generation Xers to enter higher positions with more responsibilities and roles in the corporation than allowing Baby Boomers to just fall into the footsteps of Traditionalists. "Generation X employees do not plan on staying with one job or company throughout their career -- nor will they sacrifice their family for their job" (Smith), therefore it is important that these employees are shown they are valued with their current workplace.
Baby Boomers have already expressed that their concerns like in financial security which is preventing them from leaving the workplace. Corporate retirement plans that give Baby Boomers added benefits would increase the leverage Boomers would have in making decisions on retirement. Such retirement plans could be regarded with seniority and company loyalty, giving Generation Xers an opportunity to get the same benefits, and an incentive to stay within the company.
Promotions based on performance, security within the institute (Smith) ensure that a work environment is supportive of Generation Xers. "Generation X employees tend to be less motivated by promises of overtime pay and more motivated by personal satisfaction with their jobs" (Smith). Generation Xers need to feel that they can approach their superiors.
They are the generation that also requires encouragement in the workplace as well as having a response in the workplace. They need to know they are being heard and their complaints and suggestions are being received. It is important to "have an open work environment; encourage initiative and welcome new ideas. This generation enjoys having fun at work. Don't be afraid to try something new every now and then" (Smith),…