Managing Generational Gaps in the Workplace

The modern workplace is full of diversity, with a variety of ethnicities, races, religions and genders. Of particular importance in recent times, however, is diversity in regards to generational differences, due to issues including our ageing workforce and the increasing number of “Milennials” entering the working arena (Smola & Sutton 2002) We Have Competences To Do Papers In All Topics – Going Here  . Managers need to be aware of, and actively manage, the generational differences amongst their employees in order to increase productivity, morale and employee retention (Gursoy et al. 2008), contributing to greater efficiency and effectiveness in the workplace.

The term ‘generation’ refers to people born in the same general time span who share a distinct set of values and attitudes as a result of shared events and experiences (Macky et al. 2008; Smola & Sutton 2002). There seems to be disagreement as to the exact definition of generational groups, in terms of the years in which they were born (Parry & Urwin 2011); however, there has emerged a general consensus regarding the two most prevalent generational groups in the workplace – the Baby Boomers (or Boomers), born between 1943-60, and Generation X (or GenXers), born between 1961-80 (Gursoy et al. 008). The Millennial generation, born between 1981-2000, is also increasingly entering the workforce; however, the focus of this paper will revolve around the Boomers and GenXers, as these two generational groups currently represent the majority of the workplace (Gursoy et al. 2008). Employees from the same generation are likely to share similar norms, and thus it can be expected that their values and attitudes towards work are likely to be impacted by the generation to which they belong (Parry & Urwin 2011; Macky et al. 2008; Smola & Sutton 2002).

This ‘generational personality’ contributes to determining what individuals want from work and the kind of workplace atmosphere that they prefer (Gursoy et al. 2008). Benson and Brown (2011) outline how the Boomers grew up in a period of increasing affluence and economic prosperity, contributing to their strong beliefs in lifetime employment and loyalty to one’s company. Further, the early life experiences of Boomers explain their determination that achievement comes after paying dues and their belief in sacrifice in order to achieve success (Benson & Brown 2011). Gursoy et al. 2008) recognise that Boomers expect their loyalty to the company to be rewarded through promotions and rewards, based on seniority. Boomers are often resistant to change, and many find the speed at which technology has changed the nature of the workplace daunting (Gursoy et al. 2008). In contrast, GenXers were born into a rapidly changing social climate with great financial and societal insecurity, fuelling a sense of individualism over collectivism. Consequently, GenXers place less emphasis on company loyalty, seeking out more individualistic motives and desires (Benson & Brown 2011; Jurkiewicz 2000).

GenXers value autonomy and freedom from supervision (Jurkiewicz 2000), do not have long-term loyalty to the company and believe in balancing work-life objectives (Benson & Brown 2011). Whereas Boomers have often defined themselves by their careers, GenXers view work as just a job, depicting the perceived importance of work to each generation (Smola & Sutton, 2002). Unlike the Boomers, GenXers tend to be very impatient, and they are not willing to wait their turn for bonuses and promotions; they expect immediate recognition (Gursoy et al. 2008).

In terms of technology, GenXers tend to be very ‘tech-savvy’, and are comfortable with the increasing introduction of new technologies in the workplace. Thus it is clear that in the workplace, an employee’s attitudes and values towards work may be quite distinct from earlier generations of workers. Although there are benefits of generational blending, including the availability of different perspectives and ways of thinking, there is great potential for problems to arise due to differing values, worldviews and distinct work styles (Parry & Urwin 2011).

Gursoy et al. (2008) studied the perception of each generation towards the other, finding that Boomers believed GenXers had no work ethic and were ‘slackers’, whilst GenXers found it hard to gain Boomers’ respect, whilst also viewing them as slow to learn and resistant to change. It is thus vital that managers actively manage these generational differences, grasping an awareness of the differing mindsets of these generations in order to facilitate greater co-operation between the generations.

Failure to do so may cause misunderstandings, miscommunications and mixed signals (Smola & Sutton, 2002). There are a number of strategies that managers can adopt to minimise the conflicts between the Boomers and GenXers. Findings suggest that Boomers complain that younger generations do not respect their life experiences, while younger generations indicate that they are in search of role models (Gursoy et al. 2008). This suggests that companies can lower workplace conflicts by offering mentor programs by matching the Boomers with employees from younger generations (Macky et al. 2008).

Additionally, this would provide opportunities for the more technologically proficient GenXers to advance the skills of Boomers in this area (Jurkiewicz 2000). Creating mentor relationships in the workplace may result in mutual respect and understanding amongst different generations, and thus a better working environment for everyone. Further, managers need to recognise that different generations need to be managed differently (Gursoy et al. 2008), which will enhance employee productivity. For example, GenXers resent authority and crave autonomy, and thus allowing this generation to complete their work independently may be necessary at times.

In addition, whereas GenXers are entirely comfortable with using technology to communicate in the workplace, Boomers find email or voice mails too impersonal (Gursoy et al. 2008), preferring face-to-face communication. This has important work implications for managers including modes of training and methods of communication in the workplace. It is clear that generational differences exist within the workplace, and managers need to actively manage these differences to ensure a productive and effective environment. However, the theory underpinning generational differences is not without criticism (Macky et al. 008). The majority of studies on this theory have relied on cross-sectional data, so what we believe to be generational differences may in reality be attributed to age effects. However, studies conducted by Smola and Sutton (2002) employed the use of longitudinal data, thus clarifying the fact that these differences can be ascribed to generations. Although generational differences can benefit an organisation through the contribution of a variety of experiences and opinions, there is high potential for such differences to result in misunderstandings and conflicts between generational groups.

It is thus vital that managers actively manage generational differences among their employees, to ensure a more cohesive and productive place of work. ? Bibliography Benson, J. & Brown, M. 2011, ‘Generations at work: Are there differences and do they matter? ’, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, vol. 22, no. 9, p. 1843. Gursoy, D. , Maier, T. A. & Chi, C. G. 2008, ‘Generational differences: An examination of work values and generational gaps in the hospitality workforce’, International Journal of Hospitality Management, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 448-458. Jurkiewicz, C. L. 000, ‘Generation X and the public employee’, Public Personnel Management, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 55-74. Macky, K. , Gardner, D. & Forsyth, S. 2008, ‘Generational differences at work: introduction and overview’, Journal of Managerial Psychology, vol. 23, no. 8, pp. 857-861. Parry, E. & Urwin, P. 2011, ‘Generational differences in work values: A review of theory and evidence’, International Journal of Management Reviews, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 79-96. Wey Smola, K. & Sutton, C. D. 2002, ‘Generational differences: revisiting generational work values for the new millennium’, Journal of Organizational Behavior, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 363-382.