Working Well With Others: Thriving in a Multigenerational Workplace

Reviewed Jun 21, 2016


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This webinar will help you identify methods of resolving or managing generational conflict.

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Working Well With Others: Thriving in a Multigenerational Workplace

Rachel: Welcome to today’s webinar titled Working Well with Other: Thriving in a Multigenerational Workplace.  We are very fortunate to have Dr. John Pelletier as our presenter. Dr. Pelletier has more than 30 years of public and private sector clinical and leadership experience in psychology, rehabilitation counseling, undergraduate and graduate education and disability determination. He currently serves as a physician adviser and quality assurance consultant at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and without further delay, Dr. Pelletier, I will turn things over to you.

Dr. John Pelletier: Okay. Thank you and welcome all of you wherever you are, it’s good to be with you. This training as Rachel indicated is about how we might thrive in a multigenerational workplace and the training itself is designed to help you to increase your understanding of difference between generations in terms of attitudes, behaviors and values, and also to increase your effectiveness in working with those differences and perhaps even to enjoy them.

We’ll begin by just describing what a generation means, but we are also going to be moving on to discuss the generational groups in terms of the major events and values, relationships, work styles and attributes. We will be also looking at how we can identify ways to improve our ability to work with other people from different generations. We are looking at some strategies for managing areas that can interfere with our working with other people.

Let’s move to first defining generation and we are here talking about groups with common attitudes and experiences and preferences that develop in the context of social and economic events of a specific period of time, and each generations are usually associated with birth-year ranges. They also the generational commonalities tend to transient cultural and gender differences but the social and economic influences that great popular culture are experienced by all within a generation even though culture and gender can play a role and how these are experienced individually.

You might want to think of making this more personal by just considering how there were differences in what they mean to you when you think about your parents, perhaps your children grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, other people that you and consider how their lives have been shaped by big social events or the zeitgeist of the period in which they grew up and have lived.

And also certainly consider that other experiences such as your education, the way you were brought up in your family, religious backgrounds, ethnicity and other social and economic factors, they all have an influence on how we have developed and the kinds of attitudes and preferences we hold, and certainly they reflected in our ethics, our work ethics, in our language and they are all relevant and important.

Now we are going to shortly look at the different groups and I want to just say something that’s of concern here. I am a Pisces, I hate putting categories, I don’t like being labeled and perhaps some of you can share that that bias, and when we start talking about people it’s belonging to specific groups, we always have a risk of stereotyping them, thinking of them in certain ways that kind of blocks them in in our perception. So think of these categories a bit loosely, softly, think of how they can help to inform us about how people might be different, I don’t mean bad or good, but just different, not being the same because of unique experiences they've had and shared within a generational group.

So again caution on how we judge people but surely think about how all these experiences that e people have shared in different time periods, they have been influenced, who they are today. Let’s look at some of these groups. Specifically there are four of them that have been labeled and it’s actually a fifth to be named and that’s the group from age 1 day through age 20, and they include the traditional group the oldest group they were familiar with, the Baby Boomers and Generation X and Generation Y.

And I’d like to spend a little time just going through each of these groups by talking about, you know, their nicknames, some of the specific attributes, some of their common values and characteristics that are related to family and work, their favorite types of communication and some of the major events that impact their group or their cohort as they were growing up and developing.

That being said again I've been around – I am a boomer, so I have witnessed and experienced a lot of the same events that millenniums have experienced or people from Generation X as well as people in the Traditional group. So we also may have some things in common as well. So again that caveat of not boxing anybody in but thinking of what’s useful here and how it applies. Again, you also do want to think about as we are looking at these groupings where you fit in and to what extent what I am sharing with you is relevant, does it make sense to you when I described your generation, does it fit for you, does it seem to reflect some of the values and characteristics or preferences that you hold.

Let’s start with Generation Y, they are the youngest, we’re looking at people with ages 21 to 35 and some of you out there perhaps are certainly in Generation Y and some of you are just entering the workforce. This group is sometimes called the Millennial Generation or Generation Next, sometimes referred to as Nexters, it’s a big group, you are over 70 million almost as big as the Baby Boomers. Generation Y workers have grown up in an era of technology. You've known cable television, cell phones, answering machines, laptops, video-games, now an iWatch you can wear if you have one. My wife and I share a Fitbit that’s really helpful when I am with her specially in California where we tend to walk a lot and it’s been kind of a helpful tool, and certainly I know my granddaughter at age 5, handles her iPhone wonderfully than I do, so she is -- it’s almost like she was born with it and her mom has been letting her use hers for different things and it’s kind of amazing to watch a 5-year-old move through that technology.

So anyway this group of Millennials had major events in their life that include the Columbine High School shootings, the exposure to 9/11 at a young age, Hurricane Katrina, the Columbine High School Massacre, these are major events that certainly I’ve been aware of, but really I think impacted this generation in unique ways. Some of the values of the Nexters, of the Millennials include self-expression is being really important and perhaps even more important than self-control. A fear of living poorly that’s related to lifestyle enjoyment not wealth and also a value of needing to have respect earns that the Nexters don't just give it based on age or on your title.

Some of the family values include being close to parents and also tending to seek their parents advise an approval and in the workplace also looking to managers and supervisors to provide the same kind of nurturing, protection, advise and support that their parents have. This generation also has grown up playing on teams, they’ve educated in an era of “a village raising a child” or “no child left behind” and importantly in a demographic society where may be 1 and 3 or more classmates have been from different racial, cultural or ethnic backgrounds, and this group tends to prefer to work in teams rather than individually and they are really accepting diversity. Really a unique group when I think about my early years when I grew up in an industrial town in central Massachusetts, I knew nobody from any diverse group other than Italians or Irish versus my French-Canadian ancestry, and I'm really thankful today that I spent 4 years in the military service, more thankful I didn’t go to Vietnam, I ended up in Korea but that experience of Nellingen Barracks and our going through training and being in units with people who are very different from -- as a young person really for me changed my life in very good ways and had quite an impact on how my life has going forward.

But for people growing up today and for people of this generation it’s been just natural to be exposed to such differences in their classrooms, in their communities in most cases. And what people from this generation tend to want to see how things fit into the big picture, to see how stuff fits together, they view work as an expression of themselves, they are pretty good multi-taskers, they like a relaxed work environment, maybe like open seating and personal touches, and also expect their companies to have some social responsibility. And importantly the Nexters like to seek a balance by style of work and play with them more than perhaps some of us of older cohorts had learned early on. Nexters adapt rapidly, they crave change and challenge, they are very resilient, they are global in perspective.

The next group is the X Generation. Their age is 35-50 and they grew up in a time when they experienced the light of emerging technology and also political and institutional and competent. They saw Watergate, Three Mile Island, they also learned early on about problems in politics, the Clinton-Lewinsky debacles were going on and ended up blaming Monica for that, but those are all problems that people witnessed and were exposed to. In this generation we saw maybe a graph machines turn into high-speed copiers, see fax machines go from taking 30 minutes a page to seconds and a lot of technological change occurred very rapidly for this group.

Some of the other major epic changes for the Generation Xers included certainly at the end of the Vietnam War, the energy crisis John Lennon got shot and killed, Rodney King got beaten in Los Angeles and Operation Desert Storm occurred; those were some of the major events of that epic. The values of Xers include autonomy, independence, honesty, work/life balance, which is much like the Millennials, and they prefer informality, and they also tend to value family and friend relationships, which is also important in the workplace, these are people who really do value teamwork and relationship with colleagues and others.

Work styles include, caring about high end quality results, being productive, comfortable with authority but not impressed with titles. And again comfort with ethnic diversity and actually maybe a desire for. The Xers are adaptable, they are independent, they are reliable, they could be entrepreneurial and also pretty flexible.

And they also tend to be self-reliant and maybe have a job tenure that might last three years in one place. So they might tend to move all of it more than to other groups.

The next group is the Baby Boomers. This is a big group. Among them, we are looking at ages, 51 to 69, this is a group that perhaps in some of your cases, many of your parents belong to, be they called Flower Children, I know I once had long hair, I now look like Matt Lauer. I have noticed things changing over time too from having an employee badge at UMass mid school from 2001 that where I have a beard and long hair and when I hold it up to my face now it’s not the same person. I have a few colleagues who have the same noticeable change when they compare a picture to a current persona.

But back then I did have long hair, it was well over my years. This is a generation that they consider to be pretty self-involved but also carrying about self-improvement. We have also been generation of optimists and we valued exploration and very much achievement. A lot of us in the Boomer group went to pursue higher education and sometimes moved away from family to pursue our career and educational interest.

We also saw the dawn of space exploration, sort of man landed on the moon, I remember that, that night when that happened. We also saw more accessible long distance travel and lot of prosperity for American people. We also experienced the Vietnam War which was time of great tension in our country and personally I was getting out of college at a time when there was no draft numbers yet, and ended up going involuntarily, and luckily ended up in Korea as an army officer. So I probably wouldn’t be here otherwise.

But we also saw really the Civil Rights Movement moving forcefully through the 60s and into the 70s. We saw Martin Luther King leading and we also saw him killed, we saw Kennedy elected and also assassinated along with his brother Robert. We also went through Woodstock, it was quite an era for our generation. It was very impactful on us certainly today. Our values include high emphasis on individual choice, community involvement, self-actualization, self-improvements, and also to some extent health and wellness which is clearly a necessity for those of us that are getting older.

I think family considerations for the Boomers are important to think about, especially from a workplace perspective, we maybe looking at individuals who may still be raising children or having had them return to live with them, but also in some -- many cases, actually, caring for ageing parents. In some Boomers of the primary caretakers for their grandchildren even in some cases, but certainly for their parents, with your 94-year-old mother-in-law, I was over to see her today, as she called me about having some physical symptoms she was concerned about. My father is almost 90 and just recovering from lung cancer. And I am grateful here that I have seven siblings who really help a lot as I don’t live close by.

But these are juggling acts that employers and managers might -- and probably are sensitive too as they are managing people schedules and things. Alert to the kind of resources that people may need to manage these challenges in your life. For Boomers, their work-style might include having a lot of confidence in completing and emphasis on team building, and seeking collaborative group decision-making in the work place and a tendency to avoid conflict.

They also tend to be positive and optimistic sometimes attention seeking we have been sometimes considered as being a bit self-absorbed and maybe some truth of that.

The last generation we will talk about now is the Tradition Generation and we are looking at people who are ages 70 to 93, and obviously they are people older, but this is still a fairly large group, but as my father always reminds me, he can’t help but go through a week or a month when he doesn’t become aware of the loss of a friend or someone he served in the military with.

So for him at the end of that age group, the problems of increasing health problems, loss of my mother just a few years ago, these are nearly end-of-life changes that are very prominent, but he remained as he would say a good soldier and someone that I really respect and learn from still today.

This group has been called the Golden Eagle or the silent generation, the greatest generation as well. This group saw the great depression of the 1930s and for the most part survived that. They also saw World War II, the Korean war and they were the first generation to pursue a quality to the Civil Rights Movement, and there are many people that really continue to be engaged in justice and civil rights and many of them were leaders from this group.

Their values include conformity, authority, rules, logic. They have a very defined sense of right and wrong. They are also very loyal, they respect authority and so while they may hit somebody’s value conformity and not even resist change they also respond well to good communication and leadership and request to help and even to change what they are doing to help an organization and their colleagues.

But they might tend to prefer a verbal communication rather than an email. So these are some unique characteristics of this group. They all are very hard working, thorough detail are into committed patience, don’t like conflict, and also a group that is continuing to work past what has been traditional retirement age, probably over 60% of boomers today are not looking to stop work or maybe can’t because of financial factors that don’t allow them just to not work even part-time as they are moving into older years.

Generally work roles are indicative of these generational groups. We are often seeing workers of the traditional generation tending to hold more executive level positions while Baby Boomers and older Generation X employees tend to hold middle management positions and those of Generation Y, and it could be more in frontline or entry level positions.

And typically these work group cohorts tend to advance and remain with others of their generation and sometimes create work groups of similar values, goals, workplace styles. In essence these workgroup cohorts can create the culture of an organization of workings, of products and services.

But you might want to think too of how a lot of workplaces are a bit more horizontal today and kind of flatter and where people might find themselves in work environments with coworkers that are really from different generations and with different values, goals and work styles.

And this can provide opportunities for some really rich workplaces, but it can also be a potential for breeding misunderstanding and conflict, if not well-managed.

But overall, these are opportunities for lot of growth when the generational differences can be managed effectively and managed to the mission or business goals of an organization.

So let’s move to a little bit to some of the problems that get in the way of being effective in a workplace and managing some of the generational differences. We are going to first look at some of the major factors that may lead to conflict, which can be common sources of conflict between us.

The first is, is the use of stereotypes, and here we are talking about how stereotypes could be, not only negative, but also positive, but again, we can make a judgment about people based upon their age or what they are doing in the workplace that can lead us to make really wrong-headed judgments about them, either way that could be prejudicial.

What they really mean is we don’t see people as individuals for who they are. And I would like to share briefly just a book that I read a few years ago that had really a major impact on my having learned a lesson about stereotypical judgments.

The book is the ‘Elegance of the Hedgehog’ and maybe some of you out there have read it. It’s a French novel written by Muriel Barbery. And one of the main characters is a woman named Renée Michel, Madam Michel to a lot of the wealthy residents of this luxury apartment building. And she was there concierge. She ran errands for them. She did some cleaning, a lot of little odds and ends, some maintenance work. And if you went to her apartment you would smell familiar cooking, nothing unusual. You would not think there was much about her except that she was a 50 some odd year old widow who lived a very simple life.

But what people didn't see mostly was behind a door in her apartment was a room full of book lined shelves, classical and other music. On most afternoons she would be with a friend talking about philosophy and art and culture books. Most people didn't see that.

And the thought about the hedgehog here is that she had kind of a bristly self-protection, an exterior that didn’t let people in. She didn’t want them to know who she really was. She was very protective.

And throughout the novel another character or two become very involved; the 12-year-old named Paloma, who intents to kill herself in one year because she can’t stand the lifestyle and what she considers to be the sort of emptiness of her parents’ way of living and their values.

And then eventually a Japanese man who moves in and who recognizes that Madam Michel’s cat is named after a character from Tolstoy. He becomes really curious and with much anxiety in her part he gets to know her.

And the book is remarkable, and what it taught me in the workplace was how I need to be very careful about making judgments of other people based upon their role and what they do. And I actually went through a whole time of being more curious about people’s differences.

And so I can think of one woman who was from Peru and who was an administrative assistant, and as I got to know her I learned the she really enjoyed making really very good jewelry, she was interested in the visual arts; she was about to take some courses at a school in Boston. And she actually offered to do some help -- help me in developing a PowerPoint with some integrated media for a presentation I was doing.

And I kept approaching other people that way with curiosity and I just learned so much about them that I otherwise would have not known. So again, this lesson about generational bias or about thinking about people based upon what they do in our organizations. We hardly know who they really are unless we take the time appropriately to learn more about them and to value them for who they are. So a lesson about stereotypes.

The other two problems are when we become defensive, when we have trouble accepting someone who has a different point of view or a criticism of us, the knee jerk reaction to hold our ground to defend our point of view.

So I know that when I just simply say, I am sorry, or I simply say to a colleague who is coming to me with a request that I take a look at my work to see if I might take a fresh look at it, I readily do so, and often will say, thanks for bringing it to me. I appreciate having a chance to take a second look, and then talk later with them, and I sometimes do change my mind, that happens a lot.

The last problem can be asserting moral authority, and this is unique to older people. You can take that position from being older or more senior, but also from thinking that you are smarter than other people in some cases. Since that's your view, you have a view that I am right and you are wrong and your view has no value to another person. That’s always a trap and can get us into a lot of problems, and you I am sure have seen that.

Let’s look for a moment briefly at some strategies, and I know that I am going through this stuff pretty quickly, this is only 30 minutes of time with you, but I want to highlight some things that are particularly important.

One set of guidelines involve the 1-5 technique. The first is acknowledging differences. Recognizing that differences aren’t good or bad, but they are just that, they are different.

Secondly, building rapport with people, and active listening is the kind of cornerstone of that. And many you know, perhaps you all know what it’s like when you meet someone or you are talking to another person and you are into the conversation and all you are hearing is they are talking about themselves. They are not expressing interest in who you are or what you are doing. And certainly for me, after a few minutes I am ready to flee those kinds of encounters. And they don't tend to breed relationship or friendship.

But I also know how hard it is to actively listen. It really requires a conscious intention to want to listen to another person to really hear them and to express interest in doing so. It means looking at them, getting rid of distractions, putting the cellphone down, making eye contact. And sometimes giving feedback on what you are hearing, paraphrasing what you are hearing, letting people know that you are understanding what they are trying to communicate, and expressing some appreciation for what the say.

The Titanium rule is simply about doing unto others while keeping their preferences in mind. It’s kind of a retake on doing unto others is what you would have them do unto you.

And some of the clues to preferences include clothing; whether people are dressed formally or casually, trendy, conservative; whether they make eye contact directly or not; gestures; body language; tempo; tone; the way they speak, their vocabulary; speech style; what they express as topics of interest, these are some clues as to their preferences and what they enjoy or are interested in.

It’s also sometimes helpful if you are interested in another generation’s experience is to ask them what it was like for them growing up in the 60s or growing up as a young person as they were witnessing some major life events and how that affected them. Or what their experience has been like in moving back home with their parents and so forth.

Other steps include changing your behavior. Perhaps that's simply a commitment to listen better, or to be interested in another point of view or another person's experience.

And lastly, maybe talking about generational differences non-defensively. Some companies have actually organized groups where they brought people together from different generational groups and enable them to talk about and share some of their experiences uniquely and to again help to bridge some gaps and to promote more understanding about their work styles, their preferences, their values, and how they can in different ways work together to serve an organization effectively.

Another sort of model for working with generational differences and change includes making accommodation for differences, and that can include thinking about people's life/work balances and their scheduling issues, their need for flexibility.

I work at a place where full-time staff can take one day a week at home typically and otherwise can have flexible work hours; can come in as early as 6, leave at 2 or whatever, work 10 hour days, come in on weekend sometimes. And it really has make people generally better able to accommodate for some of them individual needs for childcare, for taking care of older family members, and just taking care of themselves by maybe getting more time at a gym or more leisure time into their daily lives.

So those are things that represent management challenges as well to try to create that kind of flexible work environment where possible that allows people to get their individual needs met more effectively.

Creating choices in the workplace; perhaps such as a relaxed dress code or allowing people to dress more casually or less formally. I have a couple of days a week where I can wear jeans if I am going in the UMass at certain times, although otherwise people are pretty informal in their attire.

Last year I had to go before a grand jury and I had to really get dressed up for that event and that was kind of a challenge for me as I wasn’t used to doing that.

In terms of management style, it also might mean letting people have more flexibility with making an uproar in the workplace by making some exceptions at times and letting people maybe have a little more leeway getting their job done without concerns for people working on those tasks.

Respect always is certainly bottom line here. Assuming people are doing their jobs and not expecting people to slide without having to be looked after carefully or closely.

Personally, I need some room to breathe and I like some flexibility in solving problems. I don’t need people to really trap me well. I am pretty good at initiating change within my own work without a lot of direction.

I also value feedback. I like to be able to go to other people for help when I am running into difficulties. But I don’t like being closely managed generally, and most of us don’t.

And you all know that one of the greatest sources of workplace stress is the lack of autonomy on the job and in terms of how you perform.

Lastly, nourishing retention is always important and offering training like this, coaching classes, opportunity for lateral movement, cross-training, helping people developing their skills if they are being challenged, always ongoing challengers for managers and for each other is we support our colleagues in their work experiences.

In conclusion here I want to say that there may be as many as four generations and soon a fifth working together in today’s workplace, and obviously certain challenges can arise. Being flexible and open-minded to other ways of thinking and work styles can lead to more successful and harmonious workplace culture.

Stereotyping can certainly damage the potential to work effectively with others and especially people from different generations. And I certainly emphasis that today as being an area of concern for me personally, and I think for most people I have known in workplace environments.

And lastly, the advantages of being part of a multigenerational workforce.

So I am hoping that as we leave this training today that you might take the opportunity to actively learn from other people who have different skill sets and areas of expertise, and who come from different generations than your own.




By Rachel Pauli, MA, CHES ©2015-2017 Beacon Health Options Source: Zemke, Raines, Filipczak (2013); Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers, and Nexters in Your Workplace, 2000. Reviewed by Nicole Perlman, PhD

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as behavioral health care or management advice. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have questions related to workplace issues, please consider contacting your human resources department. ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.



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