Stereotypes about each generation abound, but especially for the three largest groups in the workforce.
- Baby Boomers are hardworking. achievement oriented, loyal, and diligent.
- Gen X is individualistic, distrustful of authority, lacking loyalty.
- Millennials are entitled, difficult to work with, and lack relevant experience.
- Baby Boomers are resistant to change, dogmatic in their thinking, sexist, defensive, and lacking in creativity.
- Gen X are slackers because they want work-life balance but are willing to work less than Boomers to achieve it.
- Millennials only meaningful work and always value leisure over work.
Stereotypes are widely held, and fixed oversimplifications of a type of person or thing. These can be positive or negative beliefs. These are handy shortcuts for our minds to quickly filter the deluge of information with are on the receiving end. And with any short cut there is missing information.
Generational Stereotypes Become Self-fulfilling Prophecies
Assumptions are made and it’s easy to forget get to know the actual person in front of you. What can follow: miscommunication, failed blanket strategies for motivating people, learning stops, and atrophy sets in - that’s trajectory does not end well.
Remember people are still people. We have things in common. And we don’t have things in common. These attributes have more to do with our personal experiences and who we are “wired” to be. Developing good interpersonal skills is an essential element for a productive and healthy workplace.
“When we use language about millennials and gen Xers and baby boomers, it can be very off-putting, regardless of what you're saying, even if you're saying something complimentary. You may be putting them in a bucket they don’t want to be in." Jessica Kriegle, author of Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit from Ditching Generational Stereotypes
At their worst stereotypes prevent us from imagining there could be common ground, never mind actively looking for common ground and using that as a starting point to develop productive healthy relationships.
The One Issue All Generations Agree On . . . and Its Hidden Cost
There is one issue on which all people across all generations agree, try to avoid conflict with colleagues from different generations.
Gen Y and Gen X tend to hesitate to hold older generations accountable. Baby Boomers and Traditionalists admit that they tend to lose their temper more easily with 25% saying they get frustrated, upset, or angry during difficult conversations (ASTD staff, 2014; Asghar, 2014).
One third of workers say they admit to wasting 5 or more hours each week because of unaddressed intergenerational conflict (ASTD staff, 2014; Asghar, 2014). People fall prey to ageism, which can limit collaboration, workplace relationships, productivity and individual self-perception (Blauth et.al 2011). Worse, people think bad behavior is about age, so they don’t confront it, so things don’t change, which proves the behavior is the result of age difference and creates a toxic environment.
How to Avoid Self-fulfilling Prophecies
The most effective leaders and colleagues will use their empathy, and insights about individuals to create an environment where all people can flourish. Intergenerational conflict often stems from misattribution about the characteristics of a generation rather than reality and miscommunication. The parallels in the negative qualities each generation accurse the others of having is remarkable.
- Appreciate and capitalize on the differences in the generations. By fostering 5 essential communication skills in all employees.
- Respect and safety come first. Begin conversations by expressing respect for the other person and a sincere desire to achieve a common goal.
- Stick to the facts, describe your concerns using facts not feelings. “I want to talk with you about how you can share information about the Grady project you so that the whole team is kept abreast of progress and problems.” Not, “I feel like you are not living up to your potential as project lead and people don’t know what’s going on.”
- Dialogue is a two-way street. Each party should be invited to share his or her perspective.
- Don’t belabor the issue. If a colleague shuts down or becomes defensive, it is time to pause and check in with him or her. Reassure the person about the positive intention for the conversation and allow him or share to share their concerns.
- Focus on the topic at hand. Don’t pile it on, bring up different concerns or past transgressions that have previously discussed that do not relation to the current topic.
You don’t have to get along with, or fully understand another person to be open to the skills, knowledge, perspective and strengths they bring to the workplace. But if you don’t remain open to seeing people as individuals you’ll miss out those assets.