From The Space Race To Wi-Fi: Understanding generational differences in the workplace

By Siobhan Smith

Co-President of Catapult

Today, we have five generations working together in the workforce. Diversity of generations present a tremendous opportunity for employers. In fact, research has shown that having a multi-generational workforce results in improved organizational performance where workers are more creative, productive and engaged.

Preconceptions exist about every generation. Analysis of decades of research reveals that certain stereotypes have stuck with each generation over the years.

Take a look at how your generation is defined. Do you share these characteristics? And perhaps more importantly, do you have the tools to work effectively with people from the other four generations?

-Silent Generation (1928-1945) who are ultra conservative – 2% of the workforce

-Baby Boomers (1946-1964) who are “set in their ways” – 25% of the workforce

-Generation X (1965-1980) who are skeptical – 33% of the workforce

-Millennials (1981-1996) who are socially conscious, yet cynical and narcissistic – 35% of the workforce

-Generation Z (1997-2012) who are progressive, yet impulsive – 5% of the workforce

Interestingly, studies suggest that differences perceived as generational are actually quite small and are more often associated with the individual’s needs, interests, preferences and strengths over the course of their career. They are not generational differences. This is important because the strategies of improving organizational effectiveness should be placed upon understanding the individual versus understanding the generational category.

On October 2, 2020, Catapult acted as a moderator for an interactive Zoom video conference hosted by the WNY Women’s Foundation that discussed the Power of Generational Differences in the Workplace. It featured an impressive group of panelists representing each generation.

The panelists suggested the following to debunk the stereotypes in an effort to build a more collaborative, intergenerational team:

-Treat people as individuals and understand their unique needs and career stage

-Listen, connect and build relationships with a diverse network

-Mentor others and/or be mentored across generations

-Discuss and challenge the stereotypes

-Get to know others as human beings

-Emphasize shared goals

-Understand your own unconscious biases

At Catapult, we incorporate these strategies into our Executive Coaching work so clients can understand who they are and understand their strengths, biases and challenges in order to get what they want. For our Team Effectiveness work, we encourage teams to appreciate diversity and build psychological safety by being genuine and open-minded to others.

We understand that all people want to feel valued and create a true, lasting and meaningful impact in the organizations and communities in which they work and live – no matter their generation. In most high-performing organizations, this kind of culture exists. Hopefully, it’s something you’re working to develop in yours.

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