Uniting Generations through CliftonStrengths
It is not uncommon for a client to ask me how to solve generational “problems.” This is usually code for, “those darn Millennials are driving me nuts.” Go online and search for millennial and you will see that they are blamed for everything that is wrong with America and including difficulties in the workplace. Search the hashtag #GenX and you’ll see people talking about how giant swaths of the population are supposed to be whiny and self-absorbed. Boomers are thought to be stiff, rigid and totally out of touch with technology. We all know that these broad stereotypes are not the case, but generational differences are at the forefront of leaders’ minds at this time.
Here’s a mind blower - did you realize that the oldest Millennials are 38? That kind of re-frames the image of a 20-year-old moocher living in the basement. Right now, they are the largest generation in the workforce and will eventually be surpassed by the quickly upcoming Generation Z (2001 to present). Gen X, our smallest generation that got the squeeze between 1966-1980, now represent the most managers in the workplace. And Boomers, those born between 1945-1965, are increasingly not retiring in the traditional sense and are still very much present in the workplace.
With all these unique generational management styles, it can be difficult to remember every individual has his or her own unique strengths style. Understanding those strengths can bring generations together rather than continue to divide by age. Bottom line - it is important for employers encourage employees to look past age and focus on moving forward together as a company.
How are we different?
One of the best examples of a generational gap in the workplace faced by my clients is the creation of dress codes. Millennials tend to be more concerned with having a relaxed dress code, and may be perplexed by an overly formal dress code policy. On the flip side, Boomers may be offended by seeing someone in shorts in the office. It’s important for us to ask, “Is there a business reason why we would need to portray a formal outward image?” If the answer is “no” then we need to determine if we can compromise to ensure all feel comfortable and welcomed at work. BTW, it is completely fine as the leader to say, “Yeah, no, I’m not ok with booty shorts. I don’t care if we see clients or not, I have to see you and I don’t want to see that.”
Another example of a potential generational gap is how we communicate at work. Older generations may come from a time when the company CEO or senior leadership had the first and final word. But times have changed and younger workers just don’t understand this, and they are looking for a say in company decisions. Not communicating expectations regarding how company management is run can cause frustration among Boomers and cause younger employees to feel unheard and disengaged.
How are we the same?
With the CliftonStrengths assessment and body of research around strengths, we know that strengths transcend age. You can have a 23-year-old and a 63-year-old who both show strength in empathy. These individuals may both be drawn to customer service or client relations roles. However, the older employee might understand that there needs to be a balance to servicing a client and not giving away the farm. This skill can be difficult for someone just starting out in business, so the team benefits from having both employees who understand the plight of the customer, but also from the insight into business an older employee can give. Additionally, the younger employee might have a new perspective that causes a business to rethink customer service all together and how to keep it current.
So what’s next?
Employers should create opportunities for generations to interact in the workplace. A great first step is for a company to understand and embrace the individual strengths of each employee. Training in Strengths Discovery is a great way to open a dialogue, provide a common language, and give employees permission to be the best version of themselves. It can help teams concentrate on their individual gifts vs. their age differences and remind us that we are more alike than our birth years suggest.