Navigating the Business Environment & the Four Generations at Work

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Making the Transition from School to Work

Is this your last semester of college or university? Are you graduating in a few months and about to head out into the workforce? Congratulations! This is an exciting time. However, it can also be overwhelming and even scary for some people. But it doesn’t have to be.

Once you enter the workforce, you will need to know how to navigate your way through today’s business environment.  This means that you’ll have to understand who your manager and colleagues are and recognize what they expect of you. The more you ‘get’ them, the more successful you’ll be at communicating and collaborating with them.

Today’s workforce is comprised of four different generations: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Generation Ys. Each generation is shaped by different life-defining events and are motivated by different values and expectations.

The Four Generations at Work

As a new entrant into the workforce, you’re challenged will not only be understanding your older colleagues, but also with recognizing how your generation is perceived.

Traditionalists were born between 1922 and 1945. While many Traditionalists have retired, some remain in the workforce at very senior levels. Traditionalist managers and colleagues are likely to expect you to pay your dues, follow directions, demonstrate respect for their expertise and authority  and adhere to organizational policies, practices and procedures.

Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964.  They are found at all levels within an organization, with lots in middle and senior management. While this generation has created collaborative work teams, there is still an expectation that certain protocols be followed.  As the ‘new kid on the block’, you will need to ensure that you don’t overpower team meetings.   Baby Boomers will expect that you listen to and appreciate their know-how first, before you offer opinions and ideas. They want you to demonstrate that you are committed to the team’s success, not just your own.

Gen Xers were born between 1965 and 1980. They are highly independent and results-focused. Gen Xers are completely unimpressed with authority and only grant respect to managers and colleagues that demonstrate competency, not just time-served.  Gen X colleagues and managers expect that you will get the job done with minimal supervision and that you don’t rely on your parents, professors or friends to help you solve problems.  This generation looks to you to offer new, creative solutions for how to improve business performance.

Gen Ys were born between 1981 and 2000.  If you’re about to graduate from college or university, this may be your generation.  Gen Ys are eager to add value in the workplace, by offering new solutions and creatively leveraging technology.   This generation is loyal to their colleagues and peers. They will help their friends get jobs at the same organization, if it’s a fun place to work. As techno-savvy employees, Gen Ys are less likely to want to stick to a traditional 9-to-5 day.  This generation likes a fluid work environment that allows for maximum flexibility.  Your Gen Y colleagues expect you to involve them in team discussions, and that you will work as a group, ensuring the fair treatment of everyone.

How Each Generation Works

Now that you understand generational expectations and motivations, you can prepare to navigate the business environment.  Here are five tips to help you successfully communicate and collaborate with all four generations:

  • Demonstrate respect for Traditionalists and Baby Boomers experience and expertise by asking questions and  being open to learning from their past mistakes
  • View feedback and coaching as a way to improve your skills, not as a personal attack.  Your manager or colleagues want to help you improve by supporting you in identifying your strengths and areas of development
  • Offer new ideas/solutions – communicate how your ideas/solutions will achieve business outcomes, team objectives and measurable results
  • Respect levels of authority within your work environment – speak to your manager first, before you communicate with someone more senior in the organization
  • Commit to doing a great job the first time. Use the resources that are available to you to complete your job to the performance standard required

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that help clients target, motivate and engage employees in order to increase performance and productivity. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies across North America. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. With close to 20 years of experience in learning and development, she has devoted more than 13 years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance.

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