Overcome Multigenerational Challenges at Work: Event Recap

Posted by Kate Jurras on Fri, Jan 21, 2011

Dianne Durkin, President of Loyalty Factor, led an engaging panel this morning on the generational differences in communication and work style that affect employees in offices across the globe. The speakers included Mary Truslow, Recruiting Manager, Creative Services & Marketing Division, Hollister; Kate Forrestall, Manager, Global Recruitment, TripAdvisor; Healy Jones, Vice President of Marketing, OfficeDrop; and Dan Lyons, SVP HR, Allen & Gerritsen. The presenters shared personal stories and insights, and audience participation was encouraged. Special thanks to Hollister for hosting this great event!

The goal of this event was to determine the specific characteristics of each generation in order to develop methods to promote healthy and effective communication at work. Each of the four generations making up today’s workforce can be characterized by a set of values stemming from family belief systems, and the defining events of the time period.

The Generations: Quick Facts

  • Veterans   (1922-1946)  10% of the workforce
  • Boomers   (1946-1963)  45% of the workforce
  • Gen Xers   (1963-1980)  30% of the workforce
  • Nexters/Y  (1980-2000)  15% of the workforce

dan lyons resized 600

Click on the picture to watch short videos from each of the panelists.

Although everyone possesses unique opinions and preferences when it comes to work expectations and communication styles, many characteristics can be applied broadly to the generations. These are, of course, generalizations, and may not apply to all members of the groups. The following bulleted information will be particularly useful for anyone in a human resources or managerial position, or anyone looking to communicate more effectively in the workplace.


Influencing Factors

  • The Great Depression
  • WWII
  • Post-war boom
  • Korean War
  • The New Deal

Core Values

  • Loyalty
  • Civic pride
  • Respect for authority
  • Conformity
  • Discipline

How to Manage This Generation

Veterans value traditional symbols of status and recognition, and demonstrate a strict work ethic. Managers should focus on short-term goals, acknowledge experience and expertise, be clear about expectations, and emphasize respect (don’t allow a veteran to “lose face” in front of a younger employee). This generation is the least comfortable using technology, and will require the most training, as well as clear explanation of the need for change and innovation. Allow Veterans to use and build on their experience and expertise, and provide personalized hand-written feedback when possible.


Influencing Factors

  • Assassinations of JFK and MLK
  • The Vietnam War
  • The Civil Rights Movement
  • Woodstock
  • The moon landing

Core Values

  • Hard work
  • Involvement
  • Team orientation
  • Health and wellness
  • Desire to make a difference

How to Manage This Generation

Boomers will react badly if mismanaged; to avoid this, provide mentorship, motivate them with a lot of recognition, allow them to actively participate in decision-making processes, provide obvious perks (company car, etc.) when able to, and ask questions to find out how they prefer to be managed. Boomers often work very long hours—reward this.


Influencing Factors

  • Hard-working parents
  • MTV
  • The Challenger disaster
  • Watergate
  • Terrorism
  • Technology

Core Values

  • Casual with authority
  • Detest micromanaging
  • Very independent
  • Desire work/life balance

How to Manage This Generation

Xers grew up with very hard-working parents, and act almost in opposition to the Boomer generation. Xers thrive in a flexible work environment (but require structure and discipline), prefer interesting and challenging work that matters, and tend to have a sense of humor. They prefer honest feedback based on merit, not level of experience. Offer non-traditional benefits, care and support, opportunities for development, and help them develop a clear career plan.


Influencing Factors

  • 9/11
  • Berlin Wall
  • The Dot Com bust
  • Cell phones, video games, Internet

Core Values

  • Want jobs to be fun
  • Desire instant gratification
  • Look for socially responsible companies
  • Optimistic/idealistic
  • Goal-oriented
  • “Can-do” attitude
  • Not lured by company ladder

How to Manage This Generation

Nexters want to work hard, help others, and above all else expect their job to be fun. Provide work that really matters, and help them feel that they are connecting with and helping others. Nexters do well with consistent, constructive feedback, a clear understanding of the connection between work and rewards, regular verbal recognition, customized rewards, and the opportunity to use new skills right away. Be available as a resource, but allow them to work on their own.

It is important to note that all of this information is generalized, and only applies broadly. This, however, does not negate the benefit of understanding the data.

The differences between the generations are significant, but if managed effectively, this diversity can promote a rich work environment; differences need not lead to conflict. Developing trust amongst employees is of the utmost importance no matter what type of group you are managing. Teambuilding activities and mentoring programs help to foster open communication and trust in the workplace, which leads to greater productivity and contentment.

How many of your generation's characteristics apply to you? How do you manage generational differences in your workplace? What sort of teambuilding activities does your company employ to encourage positive relationships between coworkers? This may be the most important issue facing workplaces today—please chime in with your thoughts!