Generations in the Workplace in the Workplace
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Bob Vanourek at Denver University: Leadership Speaker, Business Ethics Speaker, Motivational Speaker

“Why can’t we just all get along?”

-Oft quoted lament

As Boomers stay in the workplace longer, the Gen Xers move up to management positions, and the Millennials progress into the world of work, it can seem there are insurmountable generational conflicts.

But the truth is that different generations in the workplace can develop rich, innovative breakthroughs if they focus less on their differences and more on what they share.

The differences have been heralded by many.

  • Boomers (birth dates after WW II): Sense of duty; longtime employment commitment; family values; uncomfortable expressing feelings; not tech savvy.
  • Gen Xers (birth dates early 1960s to early 1980s): Want involvement and participation; like autonomy; less formal; tech savvy; loose schedules.
  • Millennials (birth dates from the early 1980s): Social networkers; see no limits; causal dress and attitude; independent; sense of entitlement.

But difference is not all there is.

A 2011 international study showed employees from different generations and cultures share many of the same values. This study confirms my own experience working with many large and small organizations over many decades.

When my teams draft their personal values (as a prelude to collaboratively developing shared values to guide the behaviors of their groups), we find a remarkable overlap. I often see these words (or their synonyms) in their lists of personal values:

  • family
  • fairness
  • fun
  • integrity
  • leadership
  • learning
  • respect
  • relationships
  • service
  • success
  • teamwork

(For a more comprehensive list of values from which to pick your personal values, see our Personal Values Exercise)

In spite of all other differences (to generation, add gender, home culture, and more) most employees, after they have the baseline security of a job with reasonable pay and benefits, want to:

  • Be treated fairly and with respect
  • Be recognized and appreciated for their individual and collective talents
  • Feel that their leaders truly care for them
  • Do meaningful work that contributes to a greater good
  • See how their particular job contributes to a greater purpose
  • Be given constructive feedback on their work
  • Be connected with their colleagues.

How can you, regardless of what type or size of organization in which you work, bridge your generational gaps?

In four simple steps.

  1. Collaboratively draft a shared purpose (mission for your team).
    •   No more than six words
    •   Memorable
    •   Very long term
    •   Inspirational
    •   Examples:
      • Humane Society:
        • Celebrating animals – Confronting cruelty
        • Delivering happiness
  1. Have your team draft their individual personal values (see above)
  2. As a group, compare the personal values and draft the shared values you collectively wish to guide the behaviors of your team
  3. Empower everyone to enforce those shared values, even with you

It really is that simple. It takes only time, and a willingness to engage in authentic introspection and dialogue with others. Then comes the best part: the more you understand about the values you share, the freer you are to genuinely celebrate your differences.

Bob giving speech

Bob Vanourek is the former CEO of five firms from a start-up to a billion dollar NY stock exchange turnaround. He is the co-author of the award-winning book Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations. He is one of Trust Across America’s Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior. in the Workplace
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