Generational Diversity: Merging the Gap
How many times have you said, regarding a peer, boss or direct report, something similar to, "I just don't GET them!"? You may have even said the same as it relates to a spouse and/or child. We don"t "get them" many times because of the different generations in which we belong. Our lack of understanding of the differences in our generations can cause stress, discomfort, conflict and frustration. In turn, these differences can also become a source for creativity and productivity.
The ability to relate effectively to all types of people is one of today’s essential leadership skills. For the first time in history we find ourselves with four generations in the workplace at one time. The task of bringing these generations together is not an easy one, yet one that must be addressed. As diversity becomes more of a hot topic in American society, generational diversity’s importance increases as well. Knowing that each generation possesses unique traits and characteristics, companies must address the issues of each generation. By doing this, companies will be able to create a more cohesive work environment.
Claire Raines, renowned generational diversity expert, uses the metaphor of a deck of cards to help in understanding how we think about businesspeople and the issues they face. (Connecting Generations: The Sourcebook for a New Workplace, Crisp Learning, 2003) If your coworkers, direct reports, etc. were a deck of cards, you could sort that deck in all kinds of ways. You might want to split the deck into two stacks - one for men, one for women. You could separate them according to ethnic background. You might stack the deck according to sexual orientation. You could sort according to coworkers’ countries of origin. You could make sixteen piles that represent the Myers Briggs ™ types. You could even sort them according to the generation in which they belong.
Karl Krumm, an associate with Ms. Raines and a Ph.D. of Psychology, believes – and I agree – that each time you sorted the cards and then explored the way the stacks were different from and similar to the others, along with the ways all the cards in a stack were similar to each other, you would get helpful information that would give you valuable insights about every card. Of course, sorting the cards would never give you a picture of the complete person; individual human beings are way too complex for that. But, if you are interested in people and how to work more effectively with them, I am certain you’ll find the generational sort to be an extremely valuable one.
Today’s most effective organizations don’t just tolerate diversity. They seek it out. They go looking for people of all nationalities, political beliefs, backgrounds, ages and genders. Again, it is not always easy, because differences are often thought of negatively, as in, "We’ve had our differences." Says Thomas Crum, "Conflicts can be disastrous or miraculous, depending on how you react to them." (The Magic of Conflict, Touchstone Press, 1987) Differences become miraculous when we appreciate them and utilize them.
Today’s best companies create competitive advantage by becoming employer of choice – by being the company for whom all the best people want to work. This requires a work culture that recognizes and appreciates a variety of perspectives, styles and opinions – where differences are sought out, valued, respected and put to use. Business success requires a workforce that is educated about diversity, where associates have developed their awareness and appreciation for differences and have learned useful skills for merging the gaps and tapping into the best of everyone.
Merging the generational gaps requires effort and commitment, in addition, in order to ensure the future success of businesses these issues must be overcome. Companies that do not address these issues may have difficulty creating an environment conducive for their employees to be productive, therefore compromising the company’s success. Other companies may recognize these gaps and implement programs to close them. Those choosing to facilitate the merging of the generational gaps will certainly reap the rewards of their efforts.
Note from Dana……participants of the workshop will leave with an overview of the four generations currently in the workplace, events that shaped their values, personal attributes, the do’s and don’ts when interacting with them, their likes and dislikes, as well as a list of 10 creative ideas to introduce and/or enhance generational awareness in your own companies.
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Generational Diversity: Merging the Gap