Here’s the deal, I know groupings like generations cannot account for the uniqueness of each member of your team but in the end we are humans and our brains like grouping. There are some common characteristics among generations, especially regarding their motivation and communication styles in the workplace, and as leaders this can help us to better understand and get to know the unique individuals on our teams.
With that in mind, I’m taking the month of June to work through generations in the workplace – and this week we’re starting with Baby Boomers. But before we jump in, we do still have some Traditionalists in the workplace (those born before 1946), but globally they make up only about 3% of the workforce. This generation, “The Silent Generation”, have a strong sense of duty and responsibility and a strong respect for authority. They are a very formal generation, still preferring to utilizing formal memos, salutations, and titles. They have a need to be respected and work off of the “no news is good news” mantra.
Boomers in the workplace
Okay now onto our lovely Boomers! Boomers are those born between 1946-1964, and grew up in a time of positivity and economic prosperity following the end of the second world war. It’s important to understand the times in the formative years of each generation as it gives us clear insight into some of the hard-standing motivations, desires, and fears of our team members. Boomers grew up with the idea of the American Dream, and have worked very hard to achieve it.
Working for the American Dream, they established their worth in the workplace by being SEEN and working the hardest and the longest. They sacrificed family time for work, because they believed that the hard work they were doing would positively impact their families in the long run. This generation invented the 50-hour and 60-hour workweeks and really have to SEE hard work being done to understand and value it. They respect and value relationships in the workplace, and put face-time and verbal communication above all else.
What’s great about this generation is that they will always go the extra mile to not only get the work done, but get the work done well. They see their work and career as a main anchor in their identity, and would not risk their word or reputation by producing subpar work. They are generally warm and want to see a working environment of teams in a generally friendly atmosphere.
The difficulty in working with Boomers is they really don’t like change. They challenge authority, but don’t like being challenged by other generations, rather they want to be valued and respected by other generations. Because their identity and worth is so heavily tied to their work and career, it is difficult for many to see themselves retiring, because then who would they be?
They also expect everyone around them to also be workaholics, sacrificing family and their lives outside of the office for the company and long hours. They look for ways to “improve” the work ethic of other generations because work ethic to them is communicated through long hours, nothing else. They don’t love conflict but these hard-standing beliefs about work ethic have created many conflicts with other working generations.
Here’s how to make it all work
So how do you make it work when you have five generations in the workplace currently? Here’s how. Ensure that you communicate respect to your Boomer team members. That includes having regular face-time meetings with them, listening to and actually valuing their ideas, and whatever you do, DO NOT CONDESCEND. It’s important to take the time with your Boomers to set up and explain new changes before forcing it upon them. Take time to publicly recognize your Boomers hard work and provide certificates and letters of recognition to commemorate. Yes, all of these things take time but trust me, it is time well spent.
Now, if you are the Boomer in the workplace I’ve got a few tips. You don’t necessarily have to “change” to work in this era of the workplace – however, you have to stop trying to change other generations. As you’ll see in the coming blogs of this month, other generations in the workplace grew up with differing circumstances in their formative years, creating their hard-standing beliefs as well. No one is “wrong” here – we’re just different in completely valid and understandable ways. Try to open your mind a bit to accommodate for those differences, but never give up your strong focus on relationships and face-time. You’ve definitely had that right all along!
So what now?
Use this article to start a conversation with a Boomer in your workplace (or another generation if you are a Boomer!). Work through and see what holds true for your Boomer team member and what doesn’t – these are groupings after all, and your team member is a unique individual! When you’re done, share with me in the comments what stood up and what did not!
Come back next week to hear more about Gen X!