By Phyllis Weiss Haserot
In a previous article I wrote, Got Perspective? Without It, You Don't "Get It,"
I discussed how the four generations in the workplace don't understand each other's underlying perspectives and formational influences very well. As a follow-up to that article, here I'll make some suggestions on what to do about it.
There are three main places where people will gain the knowledge that gives them perspective: at home, in school, and in the workplace.
At home: Boomers and their children (Generation Y and younger) need to reach out to each other to raise the subjects of how they see the world and why. How did things used to be? What's at risk? Why do you make the choices you do? How have expectations in the workplace changed and why? Despite the reportedly close relationships between Boomers and Generation Y/Millennials, these types of vital conversations have been lacking in many households, due to overall time pressures and the tendency for each family member to be engaged in individual work and pursuits on their electronic devices.
In school: The study of history used to be thought to give perspective. With so much to absorb from many media sources today, this is being lost on many young people. Indeed, at the college level, students may be able to avoid taking history, philosophy, and other humanities courses meant to provide perspective, among other things.
In the workplace: Employers hope to hire professionals and other employees who are pretty much fully formed. Often employers find this is less true than ever before. With worldviews and expectations changing rapidly, the generations experience a disconnect of expectations. Employers are often left to complain and/or take more of the responsibility for basic workplace orientation and professional development.
A fourth important thing that develops perspective is travel. Generation Y is typically more well traveled than generations before it, whether as children with their parents, study abroad, or leisure travel they were gifted. Travel can be a great foundation for cross-cultural awareness and understanding the complexities of our world.
Options for Employers
Here are some suggestions for employers or managers to develop more perspective cross-generationally.
- Encourage "tell me, teach me, how does this work?" conversations across the generations.
- In professional services firms, describe the business world and the limits on client attraction tactics before the Bates v. State Bar of Arizona Supreme Court decision in 1977, which began to allow marketing for professionals. Describe the evolution of all forms of marketing, advertising, and business development in the professions and how that influenced the attitudes of older professionals.
- Hold cross-generational conversation forums with affinity groups.
- Encourage the sharing of generational perspectives in mentoring circles.
- Invite a cross section of generations to be sounding boards for preparing and rehearsing business pitches and presentations.
Initiatives for Individuals
Tactfully, with an air of curiosity rather than negativity:
- Initiate conversations about the origin of existing policies, especially if they don't seem to be motivating desired behaviors.
- If you're a member of a young generation, ask more senior colleagues what the field and the workplace were like when they entered it. What has changed: how and why?
- Ask people of generations other than your own what influences formed the way they think and act – whether personal, economic, social, political, or cultural.
- Ask and listen with an open mind – and patience.
The time devoted to these conversations will pay off in avoiding conflict and enabling smoother, faster, more effective cross-generational collaboration.
The generational chronology for easy reference: Generations are defined by the similar formative influences – social, cultural, political, economic – that existed as the individuals of particular birth cohorts were growing up. Given that premise, the age breakdowns for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are approximately:
- Traditionalists: born 1925-1942
- Baby Boomers: born 1943-1962
- Generation X: born 1963-1978
- Generation Y/Millennials: born 1979-1998
Copyright 2011, by Phyllis Weiss Haserot
Phyllis Weiss Haserot is the Cross-Generational Voice and the president of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational effectiveness consulting and coaching firm she founded over 20 years, A special focus is on the profitability of improving workplace inter-generational relations as well as transitioning planning for baby boomer senior partners (www.nextgeneration-nextdestination.com ). Phyllis is the author of The Rainmaking Machine" and "The Marketer's Handbook of Tips & Checklists" (both Thomson Reuters/West 2010). firstname.lastname@example.org . URL: www.pdcounsel.com