You don’t need me to tell you that you have people of every age and stage from baby boomers to millennials – in your work place. 

How do you (personally) get along with those who are not in your tribe? Do you make an effort to bring out the best in each other? Or do you write off other generations as too soft, too full of themselves or too long in the tooth for you to be bothered with.

Could it be that maybe their major crime is that they are just not like you?

With five generations on their books is it any wonder that today’s employers struggle to bridge the gulf between the thinking and attitudes of older and younger workers. Without proper management to sort out these issues, businesses can end up with unhappy workers and high staff turnovers…

Not to forget the unprecedented pace of change that we’re experiencing with technology. We are facing a world where the change has been estimated to be occurring at ten times that pace of the Industrial revolution and 300 times the scale, or 3000 times the impact.

What can we do to bridge the generational gap?

US is the source of much psychological research – however generational biases are worldwide. I’ve combined international research with some NZ references where I can.

Baby Boomers are the senior generation in the workforce. They were born after the second world war ended in 1945 between the years 1946 and 1964. Now aged from early seventies to mid-fifties.

This was a period of post war optimism and prosperity and a more settled family life. Even those women who had a key role in the war effort were sent back to their homes to be full time house wives and mothers. Families were large, education (even university education) was free and there was full employment.

Owning your own home was not a pipe dream. It was just what you did. As an example – back in the early sixties young couples could capitalise their family benefits to fully pay off their state houses.

N.B. Just so you know. Capitalisation of the family benefit was a government sponsored system whereby the couple elected to forgo the family benefit- paid to each child until age 16- and instead, get the lump sum paid out to buy their house.

Today those houses are selling for over a million dollars. Young couples can’t get within a mile of them. AND THEY ARE THE SAME FLIPPIN HOUSES.

Baby Boomers were the first generation to have TV but they mostly grew up strangers in digital land.

They have been labelled the lucky generation. There were just so many of them – 77 million I read somewhere – this meant they always had the numbers to call the shots to make the world work to suit themselves.

They had full employment, jobs for life and one income was all you needed to buy a house for your family. They respected the authority and hierarchies and traditions which gave them assurance and security which the generations which followed could only dream about.

Generation X followed the baby boomers. They were born between 1965 and 1980 which were years of tremendous social change. The contraceptive pill gave women the choice to limit their families. Women took up the option and entered the work force in droves.

The phrase” disposable income” came into our vocabulary. Two income families allowed generation X-ers to have more toys and holidays than the baby boomers but it came at a price. More was expected of them, particularly of girls. It was no longer possible to coast along as it had been in an era of full employment. Pressure on the young was growing.

The Women’s liberation flourished during this period introduced the notion that “girls can do anything” and girls were encouraged into higher education and job opportunities. Ironically this put additional pressure on the boys who had to compete with girls for jobs and courses.

Automation was beginning to take away jobs which meant full employment was a thing of the past. Although generation X-ers were better educated than boomers, jobs were harder to find and competition was keener.

There were many more educational options but education was no longer free. The government introduced the concept of User Pays and it has been with us ever since Students borrowed money to pay for their courses and became increasingly indebted.

They were the transitional generation. Most remember being in school before computers and meeting up with them in high school. They are not the digital natives like the generations that followed but they were the first to take the plunge.

Without the back-up of full employment they became more individualistic committing to themselves, rather than the company. The word REDUNDANCY entered our vocabulary.

Generation X-ers recognised their working lives might involve many job changes. Some of their choosing. Some not.

Finding jobs was harder and buying your first home was no longer possible without two incomes. They were not as optimistic as boomers. They became cautious of personal commitment. The age of marriage went up.

Generation Y, also known as the Millenials, born between 1981 and 2000, followed Generation X. These are the first generation of digital natives who have never known a world without cell phones and the internet.

The digital world it holds no fears for Millenials. They get all their information and most of their socialisation from the internet.

Yet despite their (apparently) privileged upbringing life is not easy for them. They feel enormous academic pressure and put huge expectations on themselves to excel at everything they do.

Socialising on the internet has also made them prey to cyber bullies – loathsome creatures whose reach and venom can be so viscous as to drive their victims to take their own lives.

With their unlimited access to information Millennials tend to be assertive and have strong views. About everything. Not everyone finds this endearing. They see the world as a 24/7 place and they expect fast and immediate processing.

Although their world offered them so much Millenials are stressed out and in debt. They invested heaps in their education and clocked up huge student loans and home ownership is harder than ever before.

They do not live to work. They want work-life balance in their lives, with nice, relaxed work places. Sometimes, when it all gets too much for them, they need a pat on the back. Isn’t everyone a bit like that?

After the Millennials (or Generation Y) we have Generation Z also called the Boomlets born after 2001.

Like the Millennials before them they have never known a world before computers. They love labels and brands. They are conscious of the environment and have big plans to save it.

As Dr. Jill Novak, University of Phoenix, Texas A&M University notes in an article on the six generations living in America) they have such easy and early access to computers that they discard their toys at younger and younger ages. This trend has given us a new buzz word. It is called KGOY which means Kids Growing Older, Younger.

Toy companies have been caught unawares by this. In the 1990s the average age of one maker of dolls’ target market was a child aged 10. Today it is a child of three.

When the Boomlets reach the age of four or five and are old enough to play on the computer they become less interested in their toys and set their sights on electronics and video games.

They are savvy consumers who know what they want and how to get it.

I bet that many of you are parenting a Boomlet who has done its own shopping on the net at a very young age. They know more about brands than you do.

Boomlets are just beginning to join the workforce.

From Baby Boomers to Boomlets life has changed beyond recognition so it is not surprising we see life differently. Boomers may have had fewer options but they also had more certainties.

Younger generations have been promised much but not everything works out for them. I read some research found one third of students who enrol at university do not compete their courses. So they emerge without a degree but I bet they have a student loan.

NZ is one of the most diverse nations on earth. Our work teams are becoming increasingly multicultural. In Auckland today, there are more than 200 ethnicities and over 160 languages spoken.

The future demands a new mindset in which diversity and inclusion are explicitly linked to the success of organisations.

There’s a well-known (and I think true) saying that ‘diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being invited to dance.’ The crux of Inclusion is the notion that people matter, and trust and respect for each other is key to enjoying the dance and the party. At the heart of inclusivity is the need to create workplaces where everyone feels that they belong. Belonging raises productivity.

Communication is the crux of a successful team and for a team to be successful everyone has to be included and feel that they have a contribution to make. Sadly we often don’t trust each other enough to share our respective wisdoms.

When it comes to communication – how do you like to be communicated with from someone who is teaching you and how do you like to give your message?

Does your assessment of yourself match what other people think of you?

We tend to judge ourselves on our intent and others on their impact. The impact is what you feel when you receive something you don’t agree with but once you get over the impact and focus on the intent – in which the message was aimed to be delivered – we can smooth many waters. What you think you said may not be what they heard.

Age diversity ought to make companies stronger with wisdom flowing from old to young and young to old. Different generations can learn from and mentor each other.

We can operate as separate countries (bad) or find a way to bridge these generational gaps (good).

If we’re not getting the results we want, we need to look at how we’re interacting with each other. If we want to improve our communication we must make the effort to bring it about. And it starts with us.  That is you (and me).

We all have something to offer and people can do amazing things if they are given the opportunity to make a contribution and work together towards a common goal. 

Written by Jane McCarroll