The Four Approaches to Multiple Generations

By Haydn Shaw Senior Consultant, Franklin Covey | March 03, 2013

“These younger employees are always on their phones so much that they don’t know how to make eye contact and carry on a conversation,” the Boomer general manager complains to his counterparts at dinner during a quarterly meeting. The rest of table jumps in with their own stories of Millennial employees who don’t “get” how to provide customer service.

The most common complaint I hear from frustrated people in all four generations is “They don’t get it.” “They,” of course, means a boss, coworker, or family member from a different generation who the speaker believes is the cause of a problem. And in my experience, “it” usually refers to a sticking point—one of twelve generational tensions where teams get stuck if they handle them poorly or stick together if they handle them well.

“They don’t get it” is usually a sign that a sticking point is pulling the team apart. Team members of the same generation begin tossing around stereotypes, making jokes to each other about the “offending” generation. Each generation attempts to maneuver the others into seeing the sticking point “our” way. Older supervisors are horrified. And that’s the first mistake—viewing a sticking point as a problem to be solved rather than as an opportunity to be leveraged. The goal becomes to “fix” the offending generation rather than to look for ways to work with them.

Four Generations: The New Reality

Generational friction is inevitable today because we’ve never had four generations in the workplace. For the first time in history, there are four generations in the workplace and five in the marketplace:

  • Traditionalists (born before 1943),
  • Baby Boomers (born 1944-1965),
  • Gen-Xers (born 1965-1981), and
  • Millennials (born 1982-2003).
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