February 28, 2024

Career Couch: Working Relationships Across Generations

A. It’s both. With four generations in the workplace, it should be no surprise that miscommunications and misunderstandings occur there.

People are defined by the social and historical events they experienced growing up and that shaped them as young adults, says Jean M. Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of “Generation Me.” To some degree, what a baby boomer (born 1946-1964) or a member of Generation X (born 1965-1981) expected when entering the work force is very different from what the people in Generation Y, also known as millennials (roughly 1982- 1992), now expect, says Professor Twenge.

Then there is the simple fact that people in the workplace are at different stages of their lives. “Young people may be different from older people today, but they may well become more like them tomorrow, once they themselves age,” notes a report on Generation Y from Pew Research.

Q. Given your differing perspectives, how can you work more harmoniously with younger employees?

A. For one thing, try to understand their mind-set, says Anne Loehr, founder of Anne Loehr Associates in Washington, a leadership development firm that focuses on multigenerational work forces.

Many of the millennials grew up participating in family meetings and being coached for academics and sports, says Ms. Loehr. “Many were on teams at an early age, where they became accustomed to being included, having their input valued and working together as equals.”

Baby boomers, although they too may like to work in teams and seek consensus, are more accustomed to a top-down structure where young workers spend time paying their dues before voicing their opinions.

Some Generation X workers may be less team-oriented and more focused on their individual role at work, and how their labors will benefit them professionally, Ms. Loehr says. Not all people fit these molds, she says, but enough do that it creates challenges.

Ms. Loehr suggests giving young team members some say in how work on a project gets done. “Talk to them about their responsibilities, ask some questions and then give them a few choices you can live with.”

Q. The youngest employees at your company have had limited, if any, experience in a corporate environment. As a result, some have little understanding of proper business etiquette. What can you do about this?

A. Someone relatively new to the corporate world isn’t likely to have the same understanding of professionalism as you do. Compounding that, young employees who have grown up connected to the Internet use social media sites, cellphones and texting more than other generations, who may prefer face-to-face interactions.

Though many young people are comfortable answering a business phone, shaking hands or looking someone in the eye, many are not because they simply haven’t been exposed to enough of those situations, says Jason Ryan Dorsey, author of “Y-Size Your Business.”

Rather than risk being misunderstood by a younger worker who doesn’t know what “business casual” entails or what is meant by being “professional,” give them specific examples, says Professor Twenge. For instance, tell them what they can and can’t wear — say, short skirts and flip flops — and show them how you answer the phone.

But be aware, too, that many younger workers value informality on the job, research shows, and try to accommodate this when possible.

Q. Because you are older and have more experience, you will likely wind up serving as a teacher and mentor of your younger co-workers. What can you learn from them in return?

A. Managers and co-workers will benefit if they recognize the strengths that are inherent in generational differences. For example, research has shown that for Generation Y, work is less likely to be the most important part of their lives, whereas for older workers, life often revolves around work. Younger workers tend to value leisure time and strive for a balance between their work and personal lives. You may wind up following their example, finding ways to build more balance into your own life.

Many of the millennials also believe that the use of modern technology distinguishes them from other generations, according to Pew Research. Their enthusiasm for technological innovation may inspire you to embrace — and reap the benefits — of new technology for yourself as well.

E-mail: ccouch@nytimes.com

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=72a53b10c0ba6aacb697d5e553593082

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