Investing Answers Building and Protecting Your Wealth through Education Publisher of The Next Banks That Could Fail
Investing Answers Building and Protecting Your Wealth through Education Publisher of The Next Banks That Could Fail

Forget The Generation Gap -- How To Motivate Coworkers Of Any Age

For the first time in U.S. history, four generations work alongside each other in the office, virtual or not. Although you can't group an entire generation into a box, it's no secret that some generalizations can be made about what generations value. The meshing of values can collide in everything from recruiting to team building.

Armed with knowledge about the "other generation," you can thrive at your job. It can clear the way to good communication, and develop a foundation of respect.

Here are four generations that work side-by-side, yet may not know much about each other:

The Silent Generation's (born before 1946, although years for generations vary depending on the source) families suffered through the Great Depression;  studies show they are the savers who tend to pay with cash. The country's political and tactical landscape often plays a large role on a child's future world view. During the Silent Generation's collective childhood, the U.S. celebrated the victory of World War II; compare that to Generation Y who came of age during 9/11 and spent years under the threat of terrorism, and you have a distinctly different foundation of beliefs.

When hundreds were asked what their qualities were, results varied. Silents defined themselves by their strong work ethic, intelligence, values and morals, according to a report from the Pew Research Center, "Millenials: A Portrait of Generation Next."
   
Greg Hammill, a former human resources professional, and now a director at Fairleigh Dickinson University's Silberman College of Business, compiled research and charted generational value systems.Hammill says the Silent Generation's core values are about discipline, sacrifice, and respect for authority. Over their lifetimes, they've seen fortunes crumble and hard work pay off. They believe work is a duty, and generally put duty before pleasure in the office. They lead with a command-and-control attitude and seem to prefer formal memos as a method of workplace communication. They grew up believing that education is a dream that might be attained.

They come from strict nuclear families, and separate work from family life.
   
To motivate them: Let them know their experience is respected.

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Baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) value loyalty, often define themselves by their strong work ethic, respectful nature, intelligence, and values and morals, according to the Pew report.

According to the Hammill chart, boomers' core values are about optimism and involvement, crusading causes, personal fulfillment and questioning authority. They have experience with disintegrating families, typically believe education is a birthright and prefer communicating at their workplaces by phone at any time of day. They don't mind using credit. Work is often viewed as an adventure in which they're part of a team, and they may have a "work to live" attitude. They appreciate money and title recognition. Their leadership style is consensual and collegial, and they usually enjoy meetings.
   
"I am a baby boomer... I grew up with that work ethic where you stay late.  You impress your boss and you suffer in order to get ahead... a lot of us were kicked out of the house at 18 or 21 and told, 'Okay, you've got to figure it out,'" said Brad Szollose, consultant and author of "Liquid Leadership: from Woodstock to Wikipedia." This is at odds with their Gen Y children, who are often encouraged to live at home past adulthood, and to leave home only when they're ready.

To motivate the baby boomers: Let them know they're valued and needed.

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Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) value work-life balance, and are frequently considered savvy, entrepreneurial loners. They often define themselves by their technology use, strong work ethic, conservative values, intelligence and respectful natures, according to the Pew report.

Hammill's chart describes their work ethic and core values to be about self-reliance, fun and informality with a desire for structure and direction.  These were often the latch-key kids who figured things out on their own. They often view work as a difficult challenge and a contract. They see education as a vehicle to reach their goals.   Their leadership style is often inquisitive, challenging. They tend to consider everyone as an equal. They usually prefer direct, immediate communication while at work and often consider freedom the best reward.

To motivate them: Tell them it's OK to do it their way and forget the rules.
   
Generation Y (the generation just entering the workforce, also known as Millennials and echo-boomers, born 1981-2000) values innovation and change. They often define themselves by their technology use, music and pop culture, liberal and tolerant views, intelligence and clothing. They're accustomed to following rules and guidelines -- from birth, they were placed in car seats and grew up taking their sneakers off at airports under the threat of terrorism. They also grew up on video games, learning how to win by mastering an entirely new set of skills at each level. Their favorite television shows had complex plots, with multiple threads. Many of them are the children of baby boomers, and therefore have a good understanding of boomers.
   
But they haven't necessarily seen hard work pay off. "Several times in their lifetimes they've watched Mom and Dad lose their job, lose their investments, their house... so they don't want to operate in the same way that we, the boomers, did," said Szollose. Gen Yers are expected to have at least 10 jobs throughout their lives and are comfortable with regular job hopping and pay-for-performance work, said Dan Miller, career consultant and author of "48 Days."

According to the Hammill chart, they're often entrepreneurial, goal oriented and tolerant, and their core values are about realism, confidence, tenacity, multitasking, extreme fun and (being) social. They grew up in merged families. They believe education is an incredible expense, and that work is a means to an end.  They tend to "earn to spend" and enjoy a reward system that allows them to have whatever they want when they want it, as well as meaningful work.  They interact in the office by actively participating. They're accustomed to tweeting their beliefs to thousands of Internet friends, and are much less intimidated about getting their voices heard, said Mike Dover, managing partner of Socialstruct, a Toronto-based consulting firm that helps businesses make effective use of emerging technologies and social media. So they might feel very comfortable approaching the company's CEO on their first day of work, said Dover.  

They communicate best through Internet, email, cell phones and texts.

"They talk, text, email, Skype and do homework with friends over the computer on video," said Mark Damico, president of The Workplace Group, an office furnishing and planning company. This also means they're highly proficient at multitasking and social learning. "They enjoy it and embrace it and are better in that environment as opposed to being isolated," said Damico. Their tech savviness and social working style are often being designed into workplaces of the future, and offices are lowering cubical walls, adding more glass to enhance natural light, and planning multipurpose lounges for collective group thinks, said Damico. 

To motivate Gen Y: Tell them they'll be working with other bright, creative people.

The Investing Answer: When communicating to other generations in your office, consider what they hold dear, and their preferred methods of communication. Work to ensure they all feel valued, and realize they generally have different methods of working on large projects. Consider interviewing them about their preferences.