Capitalizing on generational differences


Here in America this is National Older Worker Week, where those who've been around a while get a little time in the spotlight - it's also a time that highlights the continuing challenge of generational differences in the workplace.

The topic of older workers is probably a good one for strategic thinkers to consider. Why? Because in less than three years, four out of 10 of America's labor force will be age 45 or older, and that fact impacts the changing needs of the workforce.

Anyone old enough to be reading this knows that each generation sees things a bit different from the generation preceding it, as well as the generation succeeding it. How often did you hear your parents say "I can't believe this generation thinks and acts the way they do!" Ironically, if you're a parent, perhaps you've said those very words yourself!

In keeping with one of my mantras, "Value the Differences, Adapt to the Differences," I thought it a good idea to use National Older Worker Week as a springboard to look at capitalizing on generational differences.

Personally, I like the "Four Generations" model made popular by authors such as Thom Rainer and Gary L. McIntosh. These are:

Builders – born between 1910 and 1945
Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964
Busters (a.k.a. Gen X) – born between 1965 and 1984
Bridgers – born between 1984 and 2002

Keeping in mind that values drive behavior and that each of these generations have differing value systems, it only makes sense that each generation is going to behave a bit differently - and therefore needs to be valued for what each brings to the workplace.

Here's a quick overview of what each generation brings (or doesn't bring) to the table:

Those who are currently age 60 or older fall into the Builders category. These workers bring excellent strengths to a team, as they tend to be diligent and committed to resolving the issues before them. Their strong work ethic plays out in their efforts to accomplish company goals.

On the down side, Builders are not usually excited about change, and many of them see technology as a nuisance. For example, making the leap from comprehending a physical desk top to computer screen desktop can be more like a long jump reserved for only the mentally athletic.

Those born between 1946 and 1964 are the oft-talked about Baby Boomers. Their strengths usually include "can do" attitudes as they strive to overcome any and all obstacles before them. Boomers tend to value learning, which is observed in their efforts be on the cutting edge.

On the down side, Boomers are often considered the "Me" generation, placing heavy emphasis on acquisition of wealth and their own emotional/psychological contentment. They tend to be in favor of change only if it furthers their own personal goals, and it's not uncommon for boomers to be seen as a rebellious lot, challenging company policies if those policies don't suit their needs.

Opinions vary on the age range of Busters. Some says this generation was born between 1965 and 1984 (currently aged 21 – 40), while others say the Buster wave ended in 1976 (aged 29 – 40).

Regardless, main strengths of the Busters include a concern for relationships and an interest in protecting the natural environment. This generation strongly believes that treating people with respect is more important than cranking out a product. As a result, Busters are very good at building and valuing strong relationships.

However, with Busters, corporate goals often take a lower priority to individual goals, and corporate leaders who have large visions are viewed with suspicion. Actions that can help a business grow can be discounted if a Buster doesn't see how the actions add value to individuals as people.

Those currently under the age of 21 (some would say mid-20's and younger) are known as Bridgers; often confident, ambitious, and community-oriented. Having grown up totally in the computer age, they are enthusiastic and adept at incorporating technology to the workplace. Because Internet use became commonplace in their formative years, Bridgers are skilled at accessing the surplus of knowledge available to them. So far, Bridgers have been observed to be a rather entrepreneurial and resourceful group.

On the down side, a culture of readily-accessed information has given many Bridgers a demanding attitude with little room for individual thinking or planning. Also, growing up with a bombardment of electronic entertainment, Bridgers may get easily bored if they're not being mentally stimulated in some way.

Like it or not, these generational perspectives are not likely to change. Therefore, we have a choice to criticize the differences, or capitalize on them. Younger workers would benefit from recognizing the stability older workers bring to the table, while older workers do well to value the relationship and technology focus of the younger generations.

As a mantra about generational differences, this is great: Value the Differences – Adapt to the Differences. After all, as Benjamin Franklin once said, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

more articles

About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.