When you travel the subway, or “tube” as they say in London, you’ll find a constant reminder to “Mind The Gap.” There’s a sign wherever you look to make sure that you take a watchful step onto the tube, over the gap between the station platform and the subway car. This saying has become so popular that you can even purchase it on t-shirts and signs in just about every souvenir store in London. Well, these t-shirts and signs might also come in handy in the office. Why, you might ask?
If you’ve ever seen a Baby Boomer and a Gen Xer or New Millennials communicate about success in the workplace, you might know where I’m going with this! Dealing with a cross generational workplace is not easy, because each generation has different sets of values, beliefs, communication tools, and social experiences that shape how they interact and perform at work. Being conscious and mindful of the workforce’s generational gaps is an absolute benefit to understanding employee’s motivations, behavior, and productivity. So, let’s “Mind The Gap” and step into our subway car of generational differences.
Let’s start with the workplace’s generational landscape. Those born after 1965, the so called Gen Xers and New Millennials, comprise half of the U.S. work force. The other half consists of 45% Baby Boomers and 5% veterans. Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1965, occupy most positions of power and responsibility on organizational charts, and influence corporate management practices that still reflect the systems and values of their predecessors, the veterans. However, many Baby Boomers in power are charged with motivating younger Gen X and Millennial generations who are not necessarily following in their elders’ footsteps. They have different workplace values and definitions of success.
The younger generations can pose challenges to the older generations in leadership positions. Tradition? Raises? Climbing the ladder? Nope. None of these work with the Gen Xers and Millennials, who are seeking a higher meaning and different path to success with a different value system.
The most significant changes in generations’ perspectives involve time, technology and loyalty. For Boomers, time has always been something to invest in the future.
For younger workers, time itself is a currency, and they aren’t willing to invest it in a career or job with uncertain dividends. When it comes to technology, younger generations are growing up with it in their hands before they can walk. When they interact with older colleagues who are confused and somewhat fearful of technology, a real role reversal often occurs.
As far as loyalty, Gen Xers and Millennials are less loyal to the authority of an organization, and instead invest their loyalty and trust in individuals. They want to work for the right boss, and they’ll change jobs if they can’t. Gen Xers grew up observing their parents’ roller coaster ride in the workplace: layoffs, downsizings, difficulties with bosses and years of hard work without anticipated rewards. They have experienced the recession and uncertain economic times. New workers consider control of their time, and every moment of their time, the primary goal, even if extended hours lead to monetary benefits.
As a leader, change isn’t easy; however, it is necessary to mind the generational gap. Imagine these “Mind The Gap” signs up everywhere in your workplace. Chances are, you’ll be more aware of generational differences in every aspect of your organization.
To “Mind the Gap” in the workplace, as yourself these questions:
1. What do my employees want from their jobs, bosses and work experience?
2. How do salary, benefits and promotion opportunities affect loyalty?
3. How do my direct reports define themselves? How do one’s job and the company enter into this equation?
4. Do my newer workers believe in paying their dues for a given time period, or are they motivated by challenges and self- fulfillment right from the very beginning?
5. How self-sufficient are my younger workers? Are they still living at home? How much are they committed to their jobs as their only means of support?