From Collision to Collaboration: The Power of Four Generations

The recession saved many businesses from experiencing the full impact of the generational clash between Baby Boomer leaders and the new Gen Y employees in the workplace. That’s because Baby Boomers were unable to retire after the stock market crash and what was expected to be a tidal wave of Gen Y entering the workforce, was more like a ripple – until now.

The great generational divide is upon us. Never before has there been a time with such distinct differences in the workplace and it’s keeping many small business owners up at night. But you can turn this collision into collaboration by understanding what makes these generational groups different.

Baby Boomers entered the workforce when economic times were tough. Their parents had been through the war and the depression. Respect was measured on a hierarchical scale that stemmed from a command and control workplace. Boomers came into the workforce thinking they’d be employed by the same company their entire working lives. Most of their job knowledge came from on the job training in which they were told exactly what was needed to get to the next level and exactly how long that would take.

Measure that mentality against Gen Y, who came into the workforce with a highly-facile use of technology and information flow that have completely transformed business operations as we know it. They also carry around an unfettered spirit of entrepreneurialism and a “get out of the way” mindset rather than “lead or follow!” They innately work well with others and expect to be included in the heartbeat of any business they’re in.

Gen X got squeezed between the two polarizing generations and is often referred to as the sandwich generation. Since boomers don’t want to relinquish the reins and Gen Y knows where the horse should go, Xers feel the crush every day.

This dynamic often creates quite the dilemma in the workplace. Boomers think Gen Y is entitled. Gen Y disregards the hierarchy that Boomers have created as a benchmark for success over several decades.  Gen X waves their hands in the background yelling, “Hey! What about me?”

So how can business owners bridge the generational divide and bring all these diverse cohorts together to achieve one common business goal?  These tips can help entrepreneurs:

No. 1: Reverse mentor – pair two generations together to learn different skill sets from one another. Pair the tech savvy of Gen Y with experienced Baby Boomer leaders.

No. 2: Discuss expectations right away – talk with each employee when you hire him or her about your expectations on professionalism, career advancement and other policies and procedures to avoid clashes.

No. 3: Learn to accept and appreciate another’s perspective – each employee deserves equal respect for his or her ideas, which must be celebrated in order to cultivate an inclusive culture.

No. 4: Tip for Boomers - Don’t be put off by overt ambition.  Embrace Gen Y’s contribution to tackle business objectives.  It will pay off in the bottom line.

No. 5: Tip for Gen Y – Show patience as managers figure out how to track your work.  While you’re creating new work styles, managers need some slack to fit your new tactics into the broader plan.

A generational mix in your workforce is important to your business’s success.  Keep an open mind about the viewpoints, DNA, skills and talent of all generations in your workplace to create a highly functional team and a high performance organization.

Shirley Engelmeier is the author of “Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage” and CEO of InclusionINC, a leading global consulting and learning organization specializing in linking inclusion and diversity to better business results through greater engagement, productivity, innovation and retention.