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Navigating Generational Diversity in Today’s Workforce

Travis Jacob

Multigeneration Group of Professionals

Understanding the generational make-up of the current workforce is critical when considering what kind of culture you desire for your organization. Building a winning culture takes effort to understand and respond positively to the four different generations currently employed.  (See the chart from the Pew Research Center below showing the number of people employed from each generation as of 2015).

Labor Force by Generation

As you may have already experienced in your organization, this can be a very difficult and sometimes tricky road to navigate. Confusion, blame, frustration, and downright anger are all part of everyday situations in workplaces all across America as a direct result of misunderstandings of the foundational world views held by each generation. I would guess that you’ve heard one or more of these comments in just the past week: “She is not dedicated to her job;” “He needs to quit expecting me to be just like him;” “They don’t value me as a part of this team;” “They haven’t put in their time;” “It shouldn't matter what I look like as long as I am doing a good job.” These comments are all indicative of a generational communication gap among the four (mainly three) generations in the workplace. Boomers (53-71 yrs old) accuse Millennials (17-36 yrs old) of being lazy and entitled. Millennials blame Boomers for expecting too much and being workaholics. Gen Xers (37-52 yrs old) blame Traditionals (74 yrs old plus) for being way too out of date in their workplace values. Traditionals look at the other three and just wish they could have their world back.

The reality is, the workplace generation landscape changes and this is very hard on people. How can we navigate through this confusing mess of values and work ethic? A common answer to this question is to live by the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you want to be done unto.” This certainly works, but there is another rule that is called the Platinum Rule. This rule says, “Do unto others as they want to be done unto.” Contradiction? No, the Platinum Rule actually compliments the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule says I will treat you with dignity and respect. The Platinum Rule says I will seek to understand you first.

The strength of generational diversity in the workplace begins with seeking an understanding of all the generations represented in your organization. Success comes when you seek to understand before being understood. We will all find that we are more similar than we think when we simply ask questions. People love to talk about themselves; their families; what things were like back in their day; what they value; why they’ve worked in one place for their entire career; why they bounce from job to job; what motivates them; their view of leaders; and I’m sure you can think of several more. When we seek to understand someone of a different generation, we begin to gain a greater respect for that person (and people of their same generation). We may not agree, but at least we understand and begin to treat that person, or people, with a greater degree of respect for who they are. And guess what? If you do that for them, they will do the same for you. See where this is going? I have been dealing with conflict between employees for years and without a doubt, the most effective way of dealing with situations between people is to have them sit down and first understand where the other person is coming from. The same applies to misunderstandings arising from the generation gap.

To the older generations in the workplace (Traditionals and Boomers), you probably have more money. Invite the younger generations (Gen Xer or Millennials) you work with to go out to lunch or coffee, and pay. Ask them questions and seek to understand them. To the younger generations, seek out older generations and ask them for advice. You may be surprised with how much you learn about each other!

One final word. Watch out - the next generation (Generation Z), which we know little about so far, is about to descend upon you and this will change things yet again! 

Ultimate Synergy

Travis Jacob is the co-Founder and Chief Culture Consultant of Ultimate Synergy, LLC, A company based in Lake Nona that consults with organizations to help build and maintain a foundation for a strong and winning culture by taking care of people and focusing on team relationships.