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  • Sara Johnson

Top Takeaways: Generational Differences


Management trainers and HR professionals are salivating over a trendy topic: the concept of generational differences. And outside the professional sphere, meme culture has explored with images depicting the differences between millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers. Typically these images contain some sort of verbal shouting match, with each generation describing the other as the "most narcissistic!"


As seductive as focusing on the tension is, the big question needs to be: when does it benefit us to focus on the differences and when does it benefit us to focus on what we share in common?


Two researchers and consultants have taken on that prompt and proposed the following breakdown of when generational differences matter and when generational perspectives align.


According to their research, the three generational differences that matter are management preferences, team culture, and motivations. As it relates to management preferences, most millennials are seeking a coach or mentor style manager, whereas baby boomers are seeking specific qualities in their boss: fair, ethical, dependable, and consistent. Team culture and tendencies around collaboration can also vary greatly based on generation, and are key to pay attention to. Finally, motivations for taking a job vary greatly, with more millennials citing company values alignment as being important to them, while older generations cite salary and working in an innovative environment as essential motivators.


However, just as there are areas to pay attention to in order to smooth out differences and keep the peace, there are also areas where different generations actually have a lot in common. These areas are: flexible schedules, making an impact, and - again - motivation. Even though millennials are seen as the work-from-home generation, it turns out that most generations crave some flexibility in their schedule and where work gets done. It also turns out that millennials, gen x, and baby boomers alike crave making a difference at their companies, doing something groundbreaking, and having real impact. And yet again motivations come up - though some motivation differences matter (see above), employees across the generations are motivated and desire to stay at a company longer when they feel appreciated and recognized for their job well done.


Your best bet for navigating generational differences on your team and at your workplace? Consider a team huddle where you learn together and share commonalities as well as differences. As the researchers point out: "It’s an important discussion to have in order to help the team build understanding and unity, and discover how to collaborate and cooperate on the path to great work."

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