Do you run into conflict at work with people who are at a different age or stage of life? Maybe you just don’t connect with them as easily as you do with members of your own generation, for example. Most leaders want to resolve differences among generations in the workplace, but how to do so isn’t often clear. The first step is understanding why and how generations see things differently.

There are five generations in the workforce today, with some groups expanding in numbers as younger workers enter in greater numbers and others declining as older workers retire and leave the workforce. While this cycle of generations leaving and entering the workplace isn’t anything new, the rate of change is accelerating more rapidly in recent years due to the large number of boomers and will continue to accelerate until most of them have retired. This generational shift is important to take note of as the ranks of leadership turn over.

Let’s take a brief look at each generation and the events that shaped its worldview:

  • The silent generation (born between 1925 and 1946) makes up 2 percent of the workforce. This generation was formed by the Great Depression, World War II and the postwar boom years.
  • Baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) make up 29 percent of the workforce, and this number is decreasing every day. They are naturally optimistic, ambitious, likely to be workaholics and highly focused on their personal accomplishments.
  • Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) make up 34 percent of the workforce. This number is not likely to increase. Partly because they value work/life balance more than their workaholic boomer parents, many boomers perceive Gen Xers as slackers. However, most want to work smarter, not harder, and are willing to develop new skill sets in order to adapt to the ever-changing marketplace.
  • Millennials (born between 1980 and 1995) make up 34 percent and are on track to make up almost 50 percent of the workforce by 2020. Coming of age in a time of relentless technological innovation and change, they appreciate diversity, inclusion and flexibility to a greater extent than previous generations.
  • Generation Z (born between 1995 and 2016) make up 1 percent but are expected to make up 20 percent of the workforce by 2020. Gen Z (also known as the iGeneration) has an even higher expectation than millennials to work remotely, given their “always connected” mentality.

If there are so many different perspectives from each of the generations currently in the workforce, how do we manage to satisfy them all? Are their differences or similarities more important to effectively work as a team? While it is true that each generation has a unique perspective due to the time in which they grew up, we are still human, and we all share many common interests.

Consider these nine values that most people agree are priorities in the workplace, and let’s focus on what is similar about us rather than what divides us:

  • Importance of family
  • Work/life balance
  • Appreciation and recognition of a job well done
  • Desire for effective leadership
  • Flexible work arrangements
  • Desire to have a voice and involvement in decision-making
  • Financial reward for a job well done
  • Sense of purpose in work
  • Dislike of the stereotypes and labels that surround the generations

Not surprisingly, people of all ages respond when they feel valued and validated. Focusing on what unites us will go a long way toward building a more cohesive, effective and efficient team. Increasing your organization’s ability to work together better can lead to company growth, innovation and profitability.

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