Cheryl Cran

Article Summary:

Effective communicators recognize the differences in generations at work.

Generations at Work

Nowadays, in order to be an effective communicator we not only need to know how to adapt to different personality types, but we also need to understand the different generational issues that can create conflict in the workplace.

The dynamics we experience today are unique to our era: younger generations have made a dramatic shift in work values leading to harsh judgements and criticisms within the work environment. Ultimately, this conflict of generational values hinders performance of individuals and weakens overall team success.

The solution? As Steven Covey of "7 Habits" would say, we need to begin first by seeking to understand. If we can begin to understand what is important to each generation, we can then learn to see things in a wider perspective and begin to build bridges of communication between the "gaps". With better understanding comes better communication, which leads to heightened tolerance and ultimately to successful collaboration between the generations.

Let's look at the different generations and their values in general:

1. The Veteran age group is generally comprised of those who are 55 and older. This generation is post-war and their nature is to be loyal to a single employer for a lifetime and in turn, they expect the same degree of loyalty back. Because this generation did not grow up with material wealth, in most cases, they tend to be frugal and do not understand the need to use debt to build business or the need for anyone to have debt at all. In the workplace, they show up on time and they take orders well - they do as they are told because they respect their boss, as well as their elders.

2. The Baby Boomer age group is comprised of generally the ages 35 to 54 and are the children of the Veterans. This group grew up with little in the way of toys or nice clothes and vowed to give their children everything they couldn't have as children. In most cases, baby boomers grew up earning an allowance and understood the principle of working hard to earn a living. In general, they left home at the age of 18 and survival was a real issue. If a baby boomer was told to do something at work or else be fired - he or she would do it because they were afraid of not being able to pay the bills. In the workplace they have a mentality of "work, work, work, and then you die".

3. The Generation X age group is typically comprised of the ages 23 to 34 and are the children of the baby boomers. A majority of the Generation X group grew up with both parents working and saw their baby boomer parents get laid off or witnessed them being miserable in their jobs. This helped shape their current value system which is, "I am going to have a life first and work will come second". It is generation X who is pushing for flex hours, 4-day work weeks, paid sabbaticals for education and paid parental leave for both fathers and mothers. In the workplace, you cannot threaten a "Gen X" to do something or they will get fired because they don't care. Most generation X's live at home until the age of 26 and do not experience the same survival issues as those of their baby boomer parents. Their main goal is to have fun at work, make a buck, and have a life.

4. Generation Y is 22 and younger. They are likely called generation Y because that is the question they ask most, "Why?" These are also the children of baby boomers and so far, are one of the most creative generations we have seen in a long time. Generation Y want to work where they are allowed creative expression, a flexible approach and control over their own hours. In the workplace, they show little loyalty because they already know they will have about 10 careers in their lifetime. They get bored very quickly and need more incentive to work than just a paycheck.

As we look at the value differences at a glance, notice when we make judgements on the values that do not match our own. Notice also that we may automatically label an attitude or value as right or wrong, without first understanding where this judgement is coming from. This kind of difference in values is one cause of conflict and communication breakdown in the workplace. We need to build our sensitivity around these issues and try our best to understand where a person may be coming from based on their generational values. A master communicator learns to recognize the differing perspectives among the generations and then creates unique solutions that appeal to each belief system.

Cheryl Cran, CSP is the author of the book "Say What You Mean - Mean What You Say" and the soon to be released book "50 Ways To Lead and Love It!". She is also an internationally renowned motivational speaker and a skilled expert in communication strategies. Her keynote speeches and customized "communication" seminars focus on helping corporations and associations to improve leadership, teamwork, customer care and change management. Cheryl is a contributing author to Richard Carlson's best-selling series "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff" and "Speak Up Speak Out". For more information, visit:

Read all advice by Cheryl Cran; Find more Human Resources experts

More advice on Human Resources
» Workplace Professionalism: How To Leave Emotional Baggage Behind
» Fighting Workers Compensation Insurance Fraud
» all Human Resources articles