Why understanding generational gap is crucial for line managers

12 08 2013

There is a serious new problem in the workplace. It has nothing to do with salaries or downsizing. Not even greed among employees. It has everything to do with distinct generations that exist at the workplace.

The generational changes include the Baby boomers — born during the demographic Post–World War II (1940 to 1964); Generation X born between late 1960s and late 1970s; and Generation Y, born between 1981 and early 1990s.

The problem is the distinct ages of the three generations. Their values and ideas differ. They have different ways of getting things done, even when communicating among others.

It is becoming a problem because at work, generational differences can affect everything — ranging from recruitment, team building and motivation. It can also affect productivity, managing change among other Human Resource (HR) attributes.

Baby boomers are predominantly in their 50s and 60s. They are well established in their careers and hold positions of power and authority. In the public sector, this generation includes President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto. The majority of those appointed cabinet secretaries include members of this generation. In the private sector, this generation constitutes a large majority of today’s corporate leaders, executives and captains of industry. They are work-centric, independent, hard workers and goal oriented.

HR experts aver that self-esteem is one of the biggest challenge baby boomers face when working with younger co-workers, generation Y. Their parents taught them that seniority comes with age, and having to answer to a young boss goes against the model they subscribed to.

They also have a problem with their younger colleagues. This is because they have the tendency to believe that they have all the answers. They want to tell people how to do something rather than ask someone how to do it.

Generation X, in the 30s and 40s are more individualistic, flexible, and value their work. They work to live rather than live to work. They appreciate fun in the workplace and are less committed to one employer. They are more willing to change jobs to get ahead than previous generations. On the whole, they are more ethnically diverse and better educated than the other two generations.

The Generation Y, still in their 20s on the other hand has a challenge working with the older generations. Generation Y always has a sense of urgency and this presents a problem to the older generation.

Young people are always looking at the next challenge before finishing the current one, resisting and sometimes sulking when their ideas are not accepted. “Organisations that have subscribed to performance management where they employ the use of employment circles that target the three generations can avoid this kind of challenge,” observes Jacob Onkunya, a productivity and HR expert.

“Staff, especially, in late 30s and early 40s who have reached the peak of their careers need to be guided on how to perform better including promotions to positions where the company can best tap their talents.”

Though salary and benefits rank first among the Generation Y, there is instant communication framework that young workers have developed through extensive computer usage and modern phone gadgets. This has led to the need for more professional feedback than that of the past generation. An employer who recognises this input from the young generation workers can handle the challenge. This should be by encouraging more use of communications platform such as sms, email, twitter, video/Skype and blogging at the workplace.

Workers from different generations have different HR applications too. “Developing career plans and roles for the generation X can help avoid the conflict with the rest of the generations rather than sacking them,” he says.

“At 30 or above, an employee wants to grow. HR products tailored to suit each generation is key in retaining all the three generations at the work place,” he explains.




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