How to Play Together in Work's Multi-Generational Sandbox

A professional guide to the personalities and passions of the different generations at work.

by Caroline Dowd-Higgins • More.com Member { View Profile }
Caroline Dowd-Higgins is the author of "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name.

Work environments today have multi-generational employees, and the frustration among the age groups is heard loud and clear in many industries. Millennials are asking for balance and flexibility during the job interview. Baby Boomers are vexed by Generation Y and their need to be tethered to technology. Generation X is eager for feedback about their work and also quick to provide criticism of others.

So how does a modern day professional cope with this generational diversity and play well together in the company sandbox? Here is a primer on the generations and their characteristics plus some practical advice for workplace harmony.

Millennials (or Generation Y) 
born since 1981. This is the most educated and culturally diverse generation in the workforce today. They tend to be zig zaggers, hopping from job to job and distrusting bureaucracy. Millennials crave work opportunities with meaning where they can feel part of the organizational mission and often value helping those in need more than a fat paycheck. They were educated with a focus on community and service learning and value that in their workplace.

Extremely tech savvy, the Millennials identify the concept of work/life balance as their top professional value. Research shows they will sacrifice pay for more vacation time or a flexible schedule, and they crave recognition. In 2014 the Millennials will comprise 36 percent of the workforce, and by 2020, they will represent nearly half of those working.

Millennial Advice for Workplace Détente

· Respect the older generations in your workplace and learn from them. Their knowledge and experience is priceless. Be coachable, be gracious, and appreciative — excellent professional manners and emotional intelligence still matter and will take you far.

·Seek out mentors and sponsors to enhance your professional development.

·Know that discussing work/life balance during the job interview can send a red flag to the employer signaling that you might not have a strong work ethic. Pursue your due diligence and seek out company culture and best fit before you hit the interview.

·Offer yourself as a reverse mentor and share your technology savvy with others less technology-able in your workplace.

·Eye contact is essential for in-person communication and showcases self-confidence. Seek out in-person conversations with your colleagues, and know that the art of face-to-face communication is valued by seasoned professionals. This skill will always serve you well regardless of technology.

·The older generations in your workplace want you to succeed for you are the succession plan. But know that they also want you to earn your way to advancement and recognition so be ready to showcase your professional strengths and work hard.

Generation X 
born since 1965. This was the first to experience a large percentage of divorce among their parents and to experience working moms during their formative years. This created a generation of individuals who own their independence, resilience, and adaptability. They feel strongly that they don’t need supervision or micro managing to get the job done.

The Generation Xers possess multicultural awareness and are comfortable in diverse work environments. They are practical and enjoy a work hard/play hard philosophy in their careers. Many of them faced first jobs in the '80s during an economic downturn, and they witnessed their parents getting laid off or struggling with job insecurity. They reinvented the definition of loyalty and remain committed to their work, but since organizations did not extend loyalty to them, they take employability very seriously and climb the career lattice moving laterally based on the opportunity. The traditional career ladder of upward mobility in one organization became unavailable to them so they created a workaround to be more fluid in their career trajectory.

Generation X Advice for Workplace Détente

· Utilize mentors and sponsors of all generations in your workplace (and beyond) to grow your career and get the solid feedback you crave.

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