Generation gap brings workplace challenges

How many generations are in your workplace?

You may have as many as four, ranging from “Veterans” to “Generation Y.” This diversity can account for conflicting values and present challenges for managers.

Karen Zucco-Gatlin, employee development training manager for WSU’s Human Resource Services, has long been fascinated by this phenomenon and has developed a class called “Generations in the Workplace.” She defines the four generations as the Veterans (born between 1909-1943); the Baby Boomers (born between 1943-1960); Generation X (born between 1960-1980); and Generation Y (born between 1980-1994.)

When doing research on the topic, she notes that you will find slightly differing dates assigned to these generations. Also keep in mind, she says, that the dates are guidelines; equally important is the individual’s own socialization experience.

Values bring conflict
Each of these different generations has a distinct set of values, according to Zucco-Gatlin. Veterans are loyal to their employers and expect the same in return. Baby Boomers work long hours and want to make a difference.

Generation Xer’s want open communication regardless of position, title or tenure. Finally, Generation Y wants a job that provides great personal fulfillment.

Zucco-Gatlin explains that the presence of these different values in the workplace can lead to conflict. Which generations experience the most friction?

“My opinion is that Generation X probably has values that are most different from other generations. Because of that, Veterans and Baby Boomers tend to look at them as ‘lazy’ — not because they are more lazy than anyone else but because they have different values. They will do eight hours of work for an eight-hour day, but do not routinely ask them to give you 10 because there are other things in life that are equally important to them.”

However, Zucco-Gatlin points out that Gen Xer’s tend to have the healthiest lifestyles because of their values. The prize for the unhealthiest lifestyles goes to the Baby Boomers.

“In the words of one writer, they invented the 60- and 70-hour work week. Baby Boomers, generally speaking, have a really strong desire to make a difference. To that end, they work long hours.”

Managing multigenerations
What are the challenges for managers in a multigenerational workplace? Managers have to communicate with, and effectively motivate, each of the generations, says Zucco-Gatlin.

Veterans are winding down their careers, so managers should appeal to their experience. With Baby Boomers, “I’d figure out some way to make them stand out and let them know they’d made a difference. It’s kind of like their theme song; they want to make a difference.”

Zucco-Gatlin sums up her class, saying: “I think the most interesting thing is, each of the generations has decided strengths. The possibilities for productivity, for increasing effectiveness, for improving the quality of the product are definitely there if we can bring the four generations to work together.”

Look for upcoming sessions of the class in the HRS course listings published in WSU Today.

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