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The Generation Gap And Changing Workforce

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Are you an older supervisor of a younger employee or a younger supervisor of an older employee? You may experience exasperation with the differing values of your younger or older co-workers. This is natural, as each generation tends to have different goals and lifestyles.

Baby Boomers, who are now in supervisory positions with many years of experience, report the highest job satisfaction of any generation group. Having ridden the waves of economic and social change, they are looking forward to passing their knowledge and experience on to the next generation of workers. Many can’t understand a younger worker who is not grateful for a steady job with a strong organization. They have a hard time empathizing with someone who challenges the corporate culture. Many employers ask the same question, “Don’t they like prosperity?” Prosperity means different things to different generations.

Older workers tend to be a much more cynical and ambitious group. Younger workers are not as willing to be patient in seeking advancement and career goals. One can accuse this cohort of having a common thought – “We want it all and we want it now.”

Younger employees need clearly defined work environments – specifics about what is wanted from them and why. Concrete rewards are important – though not necessarily money. Days off and vacations can go a long way to boosting morale. Most are hard workers and are just looking for the right motivation. Some may not share an older employee’s sense of loyalty to the organization. Some, seeing what they perceive as a better opportunity, will leave despite good management. This is not necessarily a reflection on management or the organization, but a more practical approach to work in general.

Use honesty and trust to build a relationship that encourages a younger worker’s ambition and shared success. The older manager can create loyalty by observing and appreciating a younger worker’s creativity. Loyalty is nurtured and cannot be demanded. The older manager should make it clear they are willing to be a partner in the younger employee’s career path and follow through by sharing any credit for successful projects.

Older workers often resent being told what to do and how to do it by younger bosses, especially if they have half as much experience. A manager who is sensitive to this natural tendency can usually overcome it by treating older workers with respect. The younger manager must avoid automatically labeling them in their mind as “outdated.” They also must be willing to listen to their perspective. The older employee can provide a wealth of insight gathered from a lot more living.

Older and younger workers/managers need to show appreciation for the qualities each generation brings to the task at hand. We can always learn from one another and this learning offers a rare opportunity for both sides of the generation gap.


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