Organizational leaders, self-pro-claimed generational experts and marketing specialists overly use generational labels and their associated stereotypes. These labels seem to conveniently simplify the complex diversity of people in today’s workplace. Ask yourself, are the characteristics assigned to these generational labels accurate or even appropriate?
If we’re not vigilant, we may replace a real understanding of people in any generation with false assumptions. In the workplace this can be damaging. Millennials more than any other generation have suffered more as a result of these labels. This misunderstanding can lead to unfair discrimination with real economic and human consequences.
It is important to understand that traits, etc. are general in every generation and if you stereotype an entire generation then there can be miscommunication and employees may feel labeled and/or misunderstood. So, strive for understanding.
There are several suggestions for working effectively with intergenerational co-workers:
- Don’t use labels…ever – when introducing new employees and co-workers share what they bring to the organization, as well as, what they may have in common.
- Don’t assume anything – just because someone fits into a generation don’t attach what you heard or may think about that generation to the employee. Just because you think a Baby Boomer might stay at their job longer, don’t assume they’re won’t leave. Just because millennials are supposed to be tech-savvy doesn’t mean that the millennial you’ve just hired is tech-savvy, unless you hired them for a technical position.
- Check your bias…regularly – ask yourself; have you bought into the publicity based on what you’ve heard, read or even experienced? Treat every individual as just that, an individual. Don’t assign specific generational preconceptions and biases to them. It’s easier said than done, however, continually asking yourself questions and checking your biases can assist you in staying focused on hiring the best person for the job and then providing the resources and support they need to be successful.
- Focus on individuals, not generations – do they have the requisite knowledge, skills and ability to do the job? It’s hard enough to be successful when you’re new to a job and organization without also dealing with stereotypes and myths. Don’t read books about how to manage a generation, read books about how to be an effective manager and leader. Talk to team members, get to know them and ask what’s the best way to manage them. Asking questions leads to discussion and ultimately communication and understanding.
- Embrace differences…diversity – keep in mind that most generational stereotypes are based on a middle-income, white, American-born demographic. However, America is a melting pot of culture, socio-economic groups and nationalities. Labels are too simplistic to describe anyone with accuracy.
Working effectively with all the generations means striving to develop relationships based on earned mutual trust, respect and benefit.