The Generations At Work: What’s The Problem?

2 Boomers, 2 Xers and 2 Millenials walked into a bar…

Elsie‘s bar to be exact. What followed was a couple hours of open, interesting, unscripted, entertaining panel discussion on the real or perceived generational conflict in the workplace. We set out to address the challenges, changes, myths, misconceptions and generally speaking, have a good time.

The setting was the Site Minnesota Annual Conference and I had the good fortune of facilitating this panel following my keynote address.  We also benefited from an extraordinary presentation on brand experience from Diana Oreck, Vice President of the Global Leadership Center for Ritz Carlton.

Both Diana and I emphasized culture as a competitive advantage.  Clearly, one of the challenges that emerged around cultivating a strong culture today involves managing the very different needs, values, attitude and expectations of the different generations.  An issue we attacked head on.  What did we learn?

Generally and Generational-y speaking:

-Boomers live to work. Millenials work to live. Xers really struggle with this.
-Boomers covet stability. Xers don’t buy into stability. Millenials are super adaptable.
-All of the generations are loyal to the company.  If the company has a good track record of demonstrating loyalty first.
-This next generation (Y) does a have a sense of entitlement. This really pisses off Gen X.
-The notion of “paying your dues” is a concept that is understood, accepted and defined very differently across the generations.
-Boomers are helping Milleinials improve long range thinking and communication skills.
-Millenials are helping Boomers disrupt the death grip on the staus-quo and embrace  more progressive approaches to accomplishing our work.
-Xers know everything.  Really, we do.
-Development is a priority.  For Millenials it is a mandate.  Gen Y expects a development plan and very clear, defined path and timeline to the future.
-Gen Y believes business works better when it’s more social.  They like teams. They are highly collaborative.
-Boomers like teams more when they are in charge.  Gen X is very good at flying solo.
-Gen Y expects to use the latest tools and technology in the office.  It’s how they live.  It’s how they work.
-Boomers and Xers are catching on but still have a healthy dose of skepticism around the Social Shift. Is that a business tool?  Waste of time at work?  Should we be friends on Facebook?
{Tip: Not according to our resident expert panel. You might want to think twice about that friend request.}
-Balance is over.  Each generation wants more flexibility in the way we organize ourselves to accomplish work.
-We all covet performance feedback.  Millenails want it everyday.  Real time.  They also enjoy the opportunity to participate in those conversations.  Think  “feedback” 360 style.  Your annual performance review is antiquated.

This was a fun conversation!  We laughed.  We learned.  I think we also realized that this is exactly the kind of open, transparent communication that breaks down barriers and builds better understanding. That is an opportunity.  We have a lot to learn from each other.  In understanding and appreciating our differences we’ll begin to work together more efficiently, effectively and effortlessly.

The enclosed video excerpt offers a story about my own experience confronting the generational divide with my intern, Laura. We heard a lot of similar stories during our panel discussion.  When the world changes we need to change with it.

Ryan Estis ‘Digitial Influence’ Clip ILSHRM Chicago, IL 2011 from Ryan Estis on Vimeo.

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