“Each generation goes further than the generation preceding it because it stands on the shoulders of that generation. You will have opportunities beyond anything we've ever known.”

Ronald Reagan

President, Ronald Reagan might have been stating the obvious with that statement. However, history has proven his hypothesis to be correct and despite the protestations of preceding generations, the current crop of youngsters will in fact, excel beyond anything we can imagine...thanks in part to the encouragement and support that we give them.

I recently did a keynote presentation on understanding the generations at a regional district meeting in British Columbia’s beautiful Kootenay area. They were quite surprised to find that there are actually 6 generations currently alive and well on our planet. Here they are:

1. The Great Generation, Ages 84 to 109
2. The Traditional, Ages 65 to 83
3. The Boomers, Ages 46 to 64
4. Generation X, Ages 31 to 45
5. Generation Y, Ages 16 to 30
6. Generation Z, Ages 0 to 15

Clearly, most Great Generation and Generation Z folks are not active in the workforce, but it is quite conceivable that members of all of the other 4 generations might end up in the same workplace. That being the case, it is important to understand each of them. I would like to give you some tips on how you can get along with them all a little better:

1. Traditionals are also known as the silent generation. They don’t like complainers and they communicate with few words. They grew up accepting prejudice and they hate having their integrity questioned. If you are working with a Traditional, treat him or her with respect and accept that their views are unique and often politically incorrect in today’s world. Be patient with them and don’t bother arguing with them. They won’t change and you won’t win.

2. Boomers are currently close to retirement but many are still holding the reins of power in many workplaces. They work hard and like their Traditional parents, they hate having their integrity questioned. Because of their nearness to retirement and their relative financial comfort, they tend to be more understanding of the ways of younger people and can make great allies for the people who are moving up the ladder behind them. When working with a Boomer, prepare to be challenged. If you have an idea, present it respectfully and know your stuff. If you don’t have all of the information, a Boomer will send you back for more research. If you present a problem, also present a solution. Boomers don’t like complainers who have no substance to their protestations.

3. Generation X is perhaps the most difficult Generation of all to understand in the workplace. They are success driven and in a hurry to get things done. They are often impatient with the attitudes and work ethics of Generation Y and they dislike the fact that Generation Y wants to move up the corporate ladder faster than they did. When working with a Generation X person speak in short sound-bites and don’t challenge them on things they are confident of. They don’t like to have their word questioned and they want to win. If you want to get along with them, consider their point of view and agree with as much of it as possible without compromising your own integrity. They like a fight, so if you push them into a corner, expect them to come out swinging.

4. Generation Y is the focus of much attention these days. It is important to understand that it was the Boomers and Generation X parents that made Gen Y. The parents of Generation Y gave them everything, hovered over their every move, and protected them like mother bears. Generation Y youngsters do not understand the word ‘no’ because they never heard it while they were growing up. They were encouraged and doted on to the point that each of them believes they are truly special and that no misfortune will ever befall them. If employers don’t give them what they want, they can always go home to Mom and Dad. When working with Gen Y folks, expect them to want flexible hours, a casual manner of dress, and ever-changing work responsibilities and activities. They get bored easily and if they don’t like a job, they will often exhibit negative behaviour or quit. They have no more respect for their elders than they do for their peers, so prepare for an approach and an attitude that might seem lackadaisical or disrespectful. Gen Y needs meaningful work and they require all of the information necessary to do it well. They need feedback and acknowledgement for all they do and they will not work hard for a boss who ignores them. If you want to get the best out of a Gen Y, ask them what they want and give it to them. Remember that despite their unorthodox approach, they still must perform at a reasonable level, so set clear and attainable goals for them and then encourage them regularly.

The bottom line is that all of the generations that find themselves working together must get along and must understand that the other generations react, perform, succeed and fail in their own ways and for their own reason. People really don’t change much in the course of their lives, so don’t expect to make any of the generations into something they are not. It simply is not possible to pound a square peg into a round hold, so no matter what your job is, match your pegs with you holes and support them just as Ronald Reagan hoped you would!

If you would like to learn more by having me present my “Generation Why!” seminar at your next event, contact me at wkehl@dlionline.ca or wkehl@telus.net .

All the Best!

Wayne Kehl

Author's Bio: 

Wayne Kehl is an author and lecturer in British Columbia Canada. Find out more about him and his company at www.waynekehl.com and www.dlionline.ca