Tag Archives: employers

Do Differences between Generations Matter?

 by Joanie Connell

diversityDifferences between Generations

Now, more than ever, people are talking about how different the generations are in the workplace. Skeptics wonder: are they different? Aren’t we all just people in the workplace? What’s the big deal about generations? The answers are: yes and yes, and it’s not a big deal but it is something to be aware of. Yes, we are all just people and we differ along a number of dimensions, the generation in which we were born being one of them.

There are two major reasons why generations differ. First, people of different generations are different ages and people change as they mature.   A parent of four has different needs and values than a college intern, for example. Second, people of different generations grow up in different times. My grandmother grew up during the Great Depression and wouldn’t dream of throwing away a piece of aluminum foil (which used to be tin foil). My daughter is growing up in an age where breakfast is a candy bar and is enclosed in a disposable wrapper. People’s values change alongside the advances in technology and shifts in affluence, among other things.

What Differentiates the Generations?

The environment in which people grow up is partially responsible for who they become. Beyond the basic factors, such as food and shelter, attitudes and important events, such as 911 and WWII, influence people’s outlooks on life and their way of being. A generation shares the experience of growing up during certain events and is influenced by the prevailing attitudes of their caretakers. Obviously, individuals within a generation may react differently to the same events, but overall, a person’s generation can be a group to which he or she belongs. Understanding differences—and similarities—between groups can help the groups appreciate each other’s perspectives. The table below outlines the key factors that influenced each generation. Knowing that the Silents grew up during the Great Depression, for example, can help Baby Boomers and Millennials, who grew up in more affluent times, understand why they approach money matters differently.

Defining Moments of Generations

Generations in the Workplace

My great grandmother told me stories of going out on dates in horse drawn carriages. My daughter doesn’t know how to open a car window without pressing a button. These two people never met, but I have interacted with both of them. I have gotten wisdom from both of them. One taught me patience, while the other taught me to stop and smell the roses—literally! Similarly, at work, we can all learn from each other even though it may require a higher level of understanding.

Millennials: The New Generation

Millennials, the newest generation at work, have gotten a lot of attention. They are noticeably different from the other generations in the workplace. Of course, some of this has to do with their youth. Younger people tend to be more idealistic, full of energy, and confident of their immortality than older people. They tend to have fewer responsibilities and are less concerned about planning for the future than perhaps they ought to be. On average, the previous generations were that way too. It’s part of the adult development process. Some of the attention the Millennials have gotten is due to their youth, but there is more than just that.

Look at the differences in the defining moments of the Millennials compared to other generations. For example, look at parental advocacy vs. latchkey vs. discipline. Kids in these different generations grow up with much different perspectives by the parenting styles alone. Latchkey kids grow up having to fend for themselves and, as such, are much more independent in their work styles. Disciplined children grow up with respect for hierarchy. Children who are advocated for grow up more dependent on others to solve their problems for them and less respectful of hierarchy. Understanding how people come to the office with different perspectives and expectations helps people work together. It can also help people appreciate alternative viewpoints.

Generations Working Together

The four generations in the workplace today provide diversity in their approaches to work. They also provide diversity in perspectives and experiences that can be of great use in developing products, innovating, and thoroughly considering alternatives. As with all forms of diversity, appreciating differences is important to working together. But understanding what is behind the differences brings collaborative relationships to a deeper level. Stay tuned for more on generational differences to help you leverage the generational diversity in your workplace.

Empowering Millennials

 “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.” ― Adrienne Rich

helping handStructured mentoring is the rage right now. Millennials love it! Not only do they love it, but they expect it and they need it—at least they think they need it. They’ve been programmed to think they need it from years of coaching and personal tutoring. They’ve been taught to believe they don’t have the power within themselves to get the answers. I don’t believe that’s true.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the workplace it’s that effective people take responsibility for their own development. They don’t wait around for the company to hand them a mentor and a plan. Effective people take action to get things done. They don’t wait around for someone to help them. That’s not to say that effective people don’t ask for help; they do. They seek help when they need it and find a way to keep moving forward when it’s not available. That’s because effective people have personal power.

powerHaving personal power means feeling confident in your abilities and knowing you can access the resources you need to accomplish what you want to. It means having a level of control over yourself and the world around you. It is about knowing what you can and cannot control. It is about thinking for yourself and being true to yourself. Personal power enables you to get things done.

Managers regularly complain to me that the new generation of workers needs too much “hand holding.” “They aren’t independent enough.” “They need directions and feedback at every step of the way.” How do we empower the Millennials to be able to fend for themselves? Mentoring is a good thing. I don’t knock that. But we need to ask ourselves if we are truly empowering Millennials by setting up so many structured mentoring programs for them. Could we, in fact, be disempowering them in the process? Could we be “enabling” them to remain helpless and dependent on others? By cowing to their mentoring demands, aren’t we continuing to send them the message that they can’t do it on their own?

As a consultant, one of the first things that we are taught is what the client needs is often not what the client asks for. For example, a client might call up asking for a training program for their team. Upon further examination, we might find out that it’s really the leader who needs training on how to lead the team.

Millennials ask for mentoring. They also ask to have their parents come on their job interviews. Companies are meeting these demands by providing what is asked for. But these respobird flyingnses don’t address the root of the issue: Millennials need to become more independent and self-empowered (and their parents need to back off). If we’re going to mentor young people to be effective in the workplace, that’s the message we need to send.

Why Is Pregnancy a Women’s Problem?

baby at laptopBy Joanie Connell

Babies are a part of life. We were all babies once. Most of us will have babies. And, whether or not we do, we need babies to continue our society. So, why is it that the burden of having babies has landed completely on women?

The recent HBR discussion on whether women are obligated to tell potential employers that they are pregnant when they interview is a great example of how women are blamed for having babies. The conundrum is: tell the potential employer and don’t get hired or don’t tell the potential employer and be called a liar. It’s a lose-lose situation for pregnant women looking for work.

Are men liars if they don’t tell their potential employers that they have medical conditions that might affect their work? It’s interesting that pregnancy is considered a medical condition that needs to be disclosed, even though people have fought hard to have the right to privacy over their medical issues. The disability act requires employers to find a way to deal with a disability, but why don’t employers have the same obligation to find a way to deal with pregnancy? Isn’t that gender biased?

In an ideal society, we’d all be honest with each other and give each other warning when things were about to change. But this is not an ideal society. Employers don’t do it and neither do employees. Why are women held to a higher standard?

More to the point, however, is that we all have to bear the cost of having babies and we all get to reap the benefits of having babies too. We think so often about how people who don’t have babies are saddled with the cost of other people (especially women) having babies. But, could it actually be the other way around? It could be argued that people who don’t have babies are free riders of a sort.

The problem with the blame game is that it blocks productivity. We’ve seen this on a large scale, for example, when Congress disagrees on the budget and when presidents are investigated. Our government comes to a standstill. People get so rooted into a position that they bring everyone down disagreeing. They’re fighting for win-lose but everyone loses.

Pregnant womanWe’re asking the wrong questions about pregnancy at work. We shouldn’t be thinking at the granular level of what he said/she said or if he/she should hire this person or that. The reason why women are losing out is that employers keep thinking at the level of “would this person be better for me over the next 3 months” rather than what is the best solution for the company over the long-term? This is a pennywise, pound foolish approach. Women are losing wages and opportunity and companies are losing access to a huge portion of the productive workforce.

Let’s turn pregnancy into a win-win proposition by asking ourselves to challenge our current assumptions and think in new and creative ways. Wouldn’t we all be more productive if we started implementing solutions rather than blaming and harping on problems of pregnancy at work—if we found ways to leverage the productivity of pregnant women and mothers, rather than write them off as being less worthy? Wouldn’t we all be better off if we found a way to collectively bring in the next generation of leaders and employees while supporting the current leaders and employees? Think of how much more we could get done!

Pregnancy is not a women’s problem. It is a part of life that can drain or regenerate our society, depending on how we handle it.