Merging Generations in the Workplace, the New Gen Y

Written by Wendy N. Powell, author of “Management Experience Acquired”

In a perfect world, the workplace is like a family, with seasoned baby boomer and Generation X employees guiding and working alongside less-experienced Generation Y workers.

With the Gen Y employees now solidly in the workplace, new challenges in the traditional quasi-work family are common. The “Gen Y’ers” are typically independent thinkers who feel quite comfortable raising issues with the decisions of their leaders. They are generally tech savvy having cut their teeth on their computer keyboards. They know how to make their way around problems relating to process; after all they made their way to the umpteenth level of their sophisticated video games with unusual grace. Yes, we know this new generation called Gen Y’ers.

I refer to this new generation of savvy workers as “Challengers.” This is not to be confused in the negative vernacular. Quite the opposite, this group of Challengers commonly excel in creative thinking and were raised thinking that it is okay to challenge decisions. They regularly asked “why” and got an answer to the proverbial “why not?” The older generation was generally told “Because I said so.” This is just what today’s business environment needs: creative thinking and challenging ways of doing business.

1. See it from the other side

So you, being a talented Gen Y-er, are hired and immediately dig into your work, looking to see what you can do to improve the status quo and move on to the next challenge. You learn the ropes quickly and look at the other generations, questioning why they are still doing the same old thing. “Are they dinosaurs, lazy or just not motivated? Why aren’t they just like me? I’ll learn what I can and move on to the next job that will keep me upwardly mobile, make more money and so on.” You think to yourself, Yes, I think they are out of touch with reality.

The older generations, mostly Baby Boomers and the Gen X-ers look at your generation with some apprehension. They wonder, “Will they take our jobs? We just want to work a few more years.” They are not as inclined to be moving from job to job, looking for the next opportunity. After all, they claim they have paid their dues and should be respected for what they have accomplished. And the Boomer says, “Don’t they get it?”

2. Communication

Merging the generations in the workplace is not simple, but it can be very successful with careful communication. There has always been a mix of generations in the work family, but the dynamics are now different. Often younger workers are in the power positions managing older workers. This takes some getting used to by the older generations who have normally been in the power seat.

3. Respect

Set the expectation for everyone that respect is an organizational value of the company and help employees to understand what makes each other tick.

4. Find a mentor

Encourage mentoring arrangements; pair up an experienced, senior employee with a new staffer and see what they can learn from each other. Gen Y’ers need to remember that the older generations need to know their experiences are valued; they need appreciation for their accomplishments. The older generations need to understand the younger generations need to be coached instead of managed. Send them an e-mail instead of a meeting request. They want to do their job and move on to the next project.

Realize that in these tough economic times, the employees who can contribute their creativity to the growth of the company are the ones who are most recognized and are likely to be successful in the company and survive staffing reductions. Seniority is a factor but not the only decision making criteria that companies use to decide who stays and who goes.

The Gen Y’ers should recognize and value the experiences of their experienced colleagues and the older generations should tap the energy and creativity of the younger generations. They will all learn some valuable lessons.

Foster the environment of creative thinking for everyone, and involve all levels and generations in the workplace family. Don’t forget, when employees say “Don’t they get it?” it’s all of our jobs to keep peace in the workplace family. We’re all in this together.

WENDY N. POWELL is the author of “Management Experience Acquired: Necessary Skills for Successfully Managing Any Employee” (Synergy Books, May 2010). She spent more than 20 years of her career advising managers at the University of Michigan and is currently on the business faculty at Palm Beach State College and the University of Phoenix. For more information, visit www.managementexperienceacquired.com.

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