Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Yers in the Workplace

Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Yers in the Workplace

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Written for all who are struggling to manage a workforce with often incompatible ethics, values, and working styles, Generations at Work looks afresh at the root causes of professional conflict and offers practical guidelines for navigating multigenerational differences. By laying bare the most common causes of conflict—including the Me Generation’s frustration with Gen Yers’ constant desire for feedback and the challenges facing Gen Xers sandwiched between these polarities—the book offers practical, spot-on guidance for managing the differences with consideration to each generation’s unique needs.Along with the authors’ insights for managing a workforce with different ways of working, communicating, and thinking, the book offers in-depth interviews with members of each generation, tips on best practices from companies successfully bridging the generation gap, and a mentorship field guide to help you support the youngest members of your team—tools, which are the key to helping your workforce interact more positively with one another and thrive in today’s wildly divergent workplace culture.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814432334
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 03/13/2013
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 423,188
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

CLAIRE RAINES is a nationally recognized expert on generational issues and the author of Connecting Generations.

BOB FILIPCZAK is a social media coordinator and an experienced writer and editor. CLAIRE RAINES is a nationally recognized expert on generational issues and the author of Connecting Generations.

Read an Excerpt


The New Economic Reality and the

Cross-Generational Workplace

It’s been more than ten years since the first edition of Generations at

Work. The world has changed profoundly and so have our personal circumstances. In 2004, we lost Ron Zemke, one of our original coauthors.

He was the driving force that led to the first book. Ron was a brilliant writer, an even more brilliant presenter, and a great mind and mentor.

We still can’t stand in front of an audience without thinking of him and, every time we get a laugh from the group, it’s because we are channeling

Ron’s spirit. In updating this book, there are phrases and paragraphs and whole pages of the original that are pure Ron, and it hurts to revise them. Just the act of deleting the words seems sacrilegious.

Fortunately Ron was nothing if not irreverent, so the idea that we would attach religious potency to his writing would have him chasing us from his office with heavy projectiles—as we fled for the elevator on the eighteenth floor of Minneapolis’ Foshay Tower.

Suffice it to say, the world we live in has changed. In some ways, it seems as if the earth has shifted on its axis. We find ourselves near the end—we use that phrase with great hope and determination—of a dramatic economic decline that has affected the entire world economy.

Recent years have seen a sharp increase in oil and food prices, a precipitous drop in international trade, and low consumer confidence. The

European Union (EU) is stretched to its limits as it decides whether to bail out the failing economies of Greece and Spain. Growth has slowed in the formerly booming economies of China and India. In the United

States, the number of foreclosures and personal bankruptcies has skyrocketed.

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are unemployed.

The poor economy has even affected birthrates; according to Demographic

Intelligence, a company that produces quarterly birth forecasts a birthrates in the United States are at their lowest in 25 years, “in large part because unemployment and economic fear remain high” among twentysomethings.

The first edition of this book focused on generational issues in the

United States where, in 2000, we were experiencing our ninth year of economic expansion. For nine years running, the United States had added more than two million workers a year to its payrolls. The unemployment rate hovered around four percent. So it makes sense that our first edition emphasized recruitment and retention, labor shortages, and meeting the demands of workers who knew they were sorely needed.

Those workers knew that, if their current positions didn’t suit them to a tee, they could get a job just across the street.

Today, employees from every generation are going back to the basics and lowering their workplace expectations. Elizabeth Milligan, a recent college graduate, describes the shift: “I think the current economic crisis has changed things. I would have said a few years ago, ‘We’re really skilled.

We’re going to get jobs and we’re going to do something interesting.’ But we recognize that the economy is bad. If we can get a paycheck, we’re pretty lucky. Today we’re saying, ‘We just need jobs.’”2

The shifting sands of the economy are playing havoc with the generational mix in virtually every organization. The Boomers—and even some members of the generation before them—aren’t retiring as soon as everyone thought. As a result, Generation X is feeling as if it has been sentenced to an extended parole in middle management without much room for movement. And some Millennials will spend their early “working years” underemployed or even unemployed because the organizational pipes are clogged with more experienced Boomers and Xers.

Even though the current economic climate might make compromise on the part of employees and job seekers unavoidable, let’s not be tempted to assume all those nagging differences among us will simply evaporate. While employees of all ages are surely less confident and emboldened than they were in 2000, history tells us that our tough economic times will be temporary. Job seekers might acknowledge that today they have to settle for less, and current employees might stay in their jobs a little longer, but that doesn’t mean we will all perform at the highest levels—unless and until we create a workplace environment that respects and rewards workers of all ages. The cost to a business of replacing a disgruntled employee who is fortunate enough to find a greener pasture is approximately 2.5 times his or her annual salary. Now, more than ever, that’s a cost few companies can afford.

In the first edition of Generations at Work, we made a case for a new crisis in the workplace that could be solved, or partially solved, by recognizing generational diversity. The work world was then at the beginning of an awakening about generational issues, and our primary objective was to convince readers that some common workplace complaints—lack of respect and inability to work as a team, for example—could, in many cases a be attributed to generational differences. We smiled to ourselves when you shared with us your “ahh haaaa” moments via email and after speeches and seminars. Awareness was raised. But in many cases, that’s as far as it went. People got better at recognizing generational speed bumps—and even seeing how they affected work relationships and results—but they were often unsure how to navigate the speed bumps.

This edition is less about raising awareness, and more about problem solving. We look at causes of generational behavior and approaches that not only reduce conflict but actually make generational differences an organizational asset. In these turbulent economic times, it is even more critical that organizational leaders take steps that attract candidates with the right skills, engage every employee to bring out the best each has to offer, and create an environment that lowers anxiety, boosts morale, and increases productivity. With that as our goal, we invite you to read on and learn how to tap the potential of workers from all the generations.

The Generations

The generations vying with each other in today’s workplace, as we depict them, are unique and a bit different than those commonly suggested by others. For instance, we define the Baby Boom generation as those born from 1943 to 1960. Others, particularly population demographers, define the Baby Boom as 1946 to 1964. Why the difference? We have factored in the “feel” as well as the “fact” of a generational cohort in our definitions.

For instance, our research finds that people born between 1943 and 1960

have similar values and views as the “true” demographically defined Baby

Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. Likewise, we date Generation

X from 1960 rather than 1965. This again, comes from our research and conclusion that the 1960 to 1964 cohort act and think more like Generation

Xers than any other group. In interviews and discussion groups, most members of that set of birth years adamantly refused to be labeled Boomers for any purpose. Our four generational groups therefore are:

1. The Traditionalists: born before 1943

Those who grew up in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II

and faced the world with a can-do attitude.

2. The Baby Boomers: born 1943 to 1960

Those born during and after World War II and raised in an era of extreme optimism, opportunity, and progress.

3. Generation Xers: born 1960 to 1980

Those born after the blush of the Baby Boom who came of age deep in the shadows of the Boomers and the rise of the Asian tiger.

4. Millennials: born 1980 to 2004

Those born of the Baby Boomers and early Xers into a culture where children were cherished, nurtured, and protected.

Note that our generations overlap at their end points. If we wouldn’t utterly confuse everyone, we would overlap them by three or four years.

There are no hard stops or road signs indicating when one generation ends and another begins. Please note also that we are aware of the danger of stereotyping whether by generation or gender. To say that all Boomers strive for their greatest human potential or that all Xers are good project managers or that all Millennials are hard-working optimists would be a mischaracterization, even though those core traits tend to accurately describe the generation as a whole. The research we rely on describes a cohort of people that includes tens of millions, so whenever you take those generalizations and apply them to the guy in the next cubicle, you will run into problems. Rather than shoehorn your coworkers into the characteristics we describe for each generation, learn to identify the characteristics and see if some of them fit the coworkers who are driving you crazy—and then find creative ways to change your approach.

The most important thing to remember is that the specific markers of a generation’s formative years do bind them together in exclusive ways. To say, for instance, that Millennials are more attuned to rock climbing and extreme sports than Boomers doesn’t preclude the possibility of Grandmas who can ski a half pipe. It does suggest, however a that aside from the passion for snowboarding, she will still have fewer attitudes and experiences in common with the Millennial than would another Millennial. Those common ties are self-reinforcing and selfsustaining and lead to within-group cohesion.

How This Book Can Help

This book is divided into four parts. Part One, “Dynamics of the

Multigenerational Workplace,” digs into the generations, their histories a and how they arrived at the work characteristics that shaped them—before entering the workplace and then during their socialization into the work world. Without understanding where each generation got its ideas a you will be hobbled in your attempts to diagnose what’s going on in your workplace. But this isn’t Freudian analysis; it’s just knowing enough history to be able to problem solve.

We’ve done everything in our power to give this new edition a global perspective. Chapters Two, Three, Four, and Five are told from an

American perspective. We outline the history of the eras that shaped the four generations in the United States. It’s the history we as authors know best and can speak about with authority. If you’re reading in Belgium or

Bangalore, you may want to overlay your own history and adjust the timeline a bit. In any case, you will find helpful strategies, tools, and techniques that you can apply no matter where you live and work. And in Chapter Six, we tell you what we’ve learned about the generations in other parts of the world.

In Part Two, “Where Mixed Generations Work Well Together,” we look at three companies where a mix of generations is treated as an asset rather than a liability. They represent a wonderful mosaic of the possible.

Part Two is also chock full of tools. We introduce the ACORN imperatives and then provide best practices from a variety of organizations and industries. This section is designed to be a practical user-guide for today’s day-to-day manager.

In keeping with the multigenerational approaches we endorse and support in our work, in this revision we don’t just talk about the generations a we invite them to speak for themselves. We’ve been listening to workers, leaders, managers, mid-managers, and executives in interviews and focus groups, company offices, coffee shops, and college classrooms.

In Part Three, “The Interviews” we hear from three executives who have put loads of time and effort into bridging generational gaps in their organizations—and from ten workers representing all the generations a who share their thoughts on everything from the worst boss to mandatory teambuilding sessions to retirement.

In Part Four, we’ve reprinted four of our best articles. They cover important issues from social media to mentoring—and how to chill when the boss is young enough to be your grandchild. Finally, we’ve included an appendix with an inventory you can use to evaluate the generational

“friendliness” of your organization.

A Few Words About Our Research

Twentysome years ago, the three of us became interested in generational issues. We collected information separately and collectively that we used to write the first edition. Now, with another decade of experience under our belts, we are more certain than ever that helping people understand their own generational predilections and the generational eccentricities of others is a worthy calling.

As writers, consultants, speakers, and trainers, we have spent substantial time learning from those who are “in the trenches” facing intergenerational workplace issues on a daily basis. We have administered surveys and facilitated discussion sessions and focus groups to get a broad understanding of how the generations view themselves and each other. In addition to interviewing hundreds of managers and those who report to them, we have interviewed the leading experts on the sociology of generations. We have been part of think tanks and have been closely associated with two of the best minds in the history of generational studies—Neil Howe and Bill Strauss. Our findings are corroborated by the growing body of generational research conducted by organizations like the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles; Yankelovich Partners; the National Center for Educational Statistics; Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company;

Harris Interactive; Pew Research; the Annenberg Foundation; and


Table of Contents




The New Economic Reality and the

Cross-Generational Workplace


Dynamics of the Multigenerational Workplace


A New Chapter in the Cross-Generational Workplace


The Traditionalists: What Will the Colonel Do Now—

Work? Retire? Consult?


The Baby Boomers: Retirement Postponed


The Gen Xers: Survivalists in the Workplace


The Millennials: Be Careful What You Ask For


The Global Workforce: Generations Around the World


Where Mixed Generations Work Well Together


The ACORN Imperatives and Three Companies That

Bridge the Gaps


Company Best Practices and Other Great Ideas



The Interviews



From the CEO’s Perspective


From the Trenches





Here Come the Millennials

Ron Zemke


Younger Boss and Older Worker

Claire Raines


A Field Guide to Mentoring Millennials

Bob Filipczak


Emerging Media and the Workforce

Bob Filipczak




Inventory: How Cross-Generationally Friendly Is Your Work

Group, Department, Business, or Organization?








About the Authors

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