History is in the making. For the first time in the workplace four generations exist side-by-side (soon to be five). You could well be ‘hot-desking’ with colleagues that share a 5-decade gap. It’s unsurprising that the topic of the generations at work has sparked great interest in recent years.
Stepping back in time in the workplace, ‘The Traditionalists’ and ‘Baby Boomers’ grew up in a climate of austerity. For these generations, authority was never questioned and technology was scarcely seen. Office workers wrote formal letters and then sent them out in the ‘snail mail’, not anticipating a response for weeks. How times have changed!
Stepping forward, we now have ‘Generation X, Y and Z’, Generation Z being the youngest, ‘digitally native generation’ are largely still in education yet are soon to join the workforce. Generation X and Y work longer hours compared to previous generations, according to research findings such as the likelihood of forfeiting unused holiday (24% of Millennials). These generations can be seen on several digital devices simultaneously and witnessed the birth of the term ‘google it’. With a wealth of information available to them at the tap of an iPad, these generations expect answers instantly.
With these differences in work styles, conflict can be seen to arise. The older generations do not understand concepts and traits favoured by the younger generation. For example, flexible working, their desire for instantly obtainable information, lack of hierarchy and use of abbreviated text talk. Furthermore, Generation Y believes they should be heard, have equal opportunities and want to know what an organisation can offer them.
Whilst it would be wrong to pigeon hole people, some interesting observations can be drawn. Savvy employers can observe these difference to help utilise the strengths of each generation in a positive way. Ultimately, a diverse workforce focused on collaboration and learning, rather than conflict, is more likely to succeed.
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