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How to understand and collaborate with three generations in the workplace

Dec 05, 2019

In today’s organizations, leaders must face the task of harmonizing workplace friction caused by generational collisions. 

Gen Xers, Gen Yers, baby boomers …. All bring their own set of motivations, working styles, communication methods and technological preferences to the workplace.

And today’s organizations are less hierarchical, creating a melting pot of generations.

That can create a dynamic where suspicion and defensiveness get in the way of these generations working together effectively. 

To foster productivity, creativity and collaboration and to stop generational collisions, organizations need a way to help each group understand each other.

So how do you do that?

Instead of us telling you, we decided to interview three generations of workers and ask what they wish others would understand about them. 

Here is what they said:

From Brian Gaumont, millennial

What would you like the other generations to know about your generation? 

First, that generational stereotypes need to be approached with caution. Stereotypes paint a whole group with a broad stroke without considering the individual.  

Second, I hope that other generations always consider the benefits that are brought by the diversity of thought, age, gender, race, etc. in the workplace. The best organizations not only appreciate this diversity but also encourage it through their hiring and engagement practices.  

What generational stereotype do you hate hearing about the most — and why? 

“Millennials don’t want to work. They are lazy!” I hear this a lot. I hate hearing it. Again, painting with a broad stroke is a bad idea in general.  

How this generation came to be who they are is at least part of the product of what we are exposed to. In a world with a million different stimuli, it can be challenging to keep focus or interest with one thing for an extended period of time. This includes workplaces, especially ones that don’t specifically invest in engaging the millennial generation.

What do you wish the other generations would teach you? 

Teach me what it means for you to love what you do, for you to love to come to work.

What would you like to most teach the other generations? 

Taking time to understand each other as people, instead of just as employees, coworkers, bosses, etc.

Pick one word to describe your generation. 

Impatient.

Pick one word to describe you. 

Passionate.

From Tammy Jelinek, Gen Xer

What would you like the other generations to know about your generation? 

Some of us are independent like the stereotype; we are proud to be the latch-key generation. We like things fast-paced and are looking forward to being leaders with the boomers retiring.

We spend a lot of our time being the peace maker between the boomers and the millennials — it can be exhausting. 

We appreciate that thanks to boomers we have a solid foundation to build the next generation of business. 

We appreciate that thanks to millennials we have a more casual work environment with an improved work-life balance. We are happy to let millennials work toward making things better than they are now. But we would like them to respect what we bring to the table regarding relationship-building skills and to understand that sometimes it took many long hours of work for us to get where we are at today than it has taken millennials.

What generation stereotype do you hate hearing about the most — and why? 

Millennials are not lazy; they definitely do not want to work harder if there is a smarter work solution. 

Boomers are not slow to adapt; they are just dealing with the emotions of stepping out of what they have built for decades. 

Gen Xers are not lost. They don’t always leave a job every five years (even though they know they could have been paid more if they had).

What do you wish the other generations would teach you? 

I wish millennials would teach me how to be more comfortable with not following the status quo and pushing back to get more. 

I wish boomers would teach me “what they wish they knew 20 years ago.” 

I wish Gen Z would teach me the best way to engage them in the working world. 

What would you like to most teach the other generations?

I would like to teach millennials that I can be a mentor, have hard discussions and make hard decisions, and still be a friend. 

I would like to teach boomers that they are leaving their businesses in good hands. 

I would like to teach Gen Z that I admit I don’t know much about them, but I am excited to learn!

Pick one word to describe your generation. 

Willing. 

Pick one word to describe you.  

Resilient.

From Steve Lipton, baby boomer

What would you like the other generations to know about your generation?  

We came in with the “Greatest Generation” in leadership roles. These were folks who were extremely loyal to their organization and did not buck the system. They frustrated the heck out of us! They could not understand why we questioned everything and often thought we had a better way. They expected long hours and company first. We changed that.

What generation stereotype do you hate hearing about the most — and why?

Millennials are lazy. They are anything but. We boomers just need to understand they also care about the organization but even more so what the org does for others. We need to remember how we wanted to be listened to by the Greatest Generation and listen to them the same.

What do you wish the other generations would teach you?

Better ways to do things with a “what’s in it for me” approach.

What would you like to most teach the other generations?

Understand that they have great ideas and to have the patience to get those ideas in play without alienating others in the organization.

Pick one word to describe your generation.

Challenging.

Pick one word to describe you.

Fun.

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What’s the future of your workplace?

Though we do have a few differences in the answers above, we can see the similarity of the generations. Each generation is willing to learn. They are passionate about their work and the results. They want to be able to be who they are, while working with others. They don’t want to decisions to be made based on what is the stereotype. They want to be judged based on who they are and what they contribute. They want to work and play. Most of all, they want to do their jobs without politics in the workplace. 

At Wipfli, we work with clients across the United States to address how succession planning, finding and keeping great talent, navigating change and building the future can be impacted when generations are at odds with each other. We use qualitative and quantitative solutions to build answers that help clients navigate their next challenge. And we often come to you as a multigenerational team, so we know we are walking our talk.

If you would rather spend more time getting results, let us know. We’d be happy to help!

Author(s)

Tammy Jelinek
Tammy T. Jelinek, MBA
Principal
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