As is often the case when I am having a discussion regarding generational differences, the issue of similarities and commonality arise. The conclusion is that while generational differences do exist (as is the case with other forms of diversity such as gender) the generations have a lot in common which we can tap into to create engaged and collaborative work environments. In all of our training sessions, we assert that it’s not that the generations possess different values, but rather it is how those values are defined, and the behaviours associated with them, which differ. The goal is to simultaneously understand the differences between generations so as to uncover how best to close the gaps, while leveraging the things we all have in common.
The Similarities Between Generations
While it is important that organizations and leaders understand the differences between the generations and how their work styles, communication styles, goals, and preferences affect day-to-day team behaviour, it’s equally important to uncover what employees from different generations have in common. There are 4 areas where commonalities are easily identified:
1. Effective Leadership
Each generation may have different ideas as to how a leader should act and what qualities they should possess, but all employees, across all generations, want to work for leaders that they respect and whom they trust.
That doesn’t mean that different generations want the same type of leader, but they do want leaders who they hold in high regard and who they feel good about working with / for. A commonality across all generations is a have a leader that cares about his/her employees, takes the time to find out what they want accomplish in their career, and who listens to their opinions. A productive, respectful, open and trusting relationship is paramount for all employees. The number one reason employees leave an organization is because of their relationship with their leader, so becoming a leader that all employees can relate to and engage with is critical for team and organizational success.
2. Appreciation and Recognition
Employees from of all generations want to be appreciated and recognized for their work. While the type of recognition and the frequency of this recognition certainly varies from generation to generation, the basic premise remains the same: employees want to know that their hard work, dedication, and skills sets are valued, appreciated, recognized and rewarded.
Some employees may wish to be recognized through gifts, bonuses and/ or job titles, while others may desire more vacation time, flexible work arrangements or time with senior leaders. Despite the differences in reward ‘tokens’, the need to be appreciated for a job well done exists across generations.
3. Work Life Balance
Employees from each generation desire time to spend with their family and friends. Employees want to be part of an organization that values a work / life balance. While Baby Boomers may want to take advantage of compressed work hours so they can maximize the amount of time away from the office, Millennials may wish for a more fluid work arrangement that allows them to take shorter, more frequent time away from work and re-connect at home, while travelling or working in a different location.
Each generation is also at different life stages, some are preparing for retirement and caring for elderly parents, others have young children at home, or are newly weds or single and spending time with friends at social events. Depending on where each individual employee is in their life cycle, their needs will be different but the desire for balance is consistent across all.
4. Debt and Savings
While presenting this week at a Financial Wellness and Retirement Readiness conference, I spoke about the financial issues facing each generation. Across the board, each generation the same financial priorities: buying a home, saving for children’s education and retirement. While life stages again will impact which priority they are focused on, each generation of employees have financial concerns and can be the source of great stress.
Millennials may be paying off student debt, Gen Xers could have mortgages and childcare costs to consider, Baby Boomers may trying to pay off their mortgage before retirement. All generations care about saving for retirement, whether it is five years away or 35 years away. These financial goals are a focus for all generations and they affect employees’ career decisions.
What Organizations Can Learn
To ensure the greatest impact for HR and leadership practices, it is best to use generational differences as a framework for determining what issues / topics are most important for employees. From there, hone in on the areas of commonality, recognizing that employee behaviours may be different but the root motivation / desire / need is the same.
Employees have quite a lot in common even though they may choose to express themselves differently, communicate differently, or focus on different aspects of the same goal or different ways to achieve the goals. Spending time exploring and identifying the commonalities will increase multigenerational understanding, appreciation and collaboration as well as assist leaders in creating an environment that is engaging for all.