BridgeWorks has been studying how generational differences show up in the workplace for about 16 years, says Hanna Ubl, a generational expert with the company. “We know what makes a Boomer a Boomer, an Xer an Xer, a Millennial a Millennial and how to bridge the gaps between them,” she says.
This skill is crucial in today’s corporate world because companies that thrive are the ones where employees understand each other and build strong relationships. “We have found that approaching this issue through a generational lens is the best strategy,” she says.
One key difference between generations is how they communicate, says Ubl. “Boomers usually are very formal, while Xers are very direct and honest – they don’t like fluff or cushioning criticism. Millennials are pretty informal and use a lot of slang in the office that other generations may feel is too informal,” Ubl says.
People in different generations also require different motivational tactics, she says. “Boomers are motivated by having an opportunity to do work that matters, where they can have an impact,” she says. “Xers are motivated by opportunities to grow in their careers; they like rapid and constant change. Millennials also are motivated by work that has meaning and are looking for ways to make a difference or to work for companies that are making a difference in the world,” she says.
To respond to these differences, companies with a mix of employees are increasingly offering programs where workers can choose rewards, selecting between time off or a bonus, for example, Ubl says.
One of the best things companies can do for their younger workers is to teach them how to manage other generations and to give them opportunities to lead, she says. “With companies today changing so rapidly, a lot of Millennials are moving up into management without understanding these differences in communication and motivation. Companies need to help prepare them and get them on the path to success.”
BridgeWorks has tagged the generation coming up, now in high school, as the Edge Generation. “This generation is going to be very different from Millennials,” says Ubl. “Their competitiveness rivals that of Boomers and, of course, they use technology in very resourceful ways. Many experts say their brain actually is developing differently so they can switch tasks faster. It will be exciting to see what differences they will bring into the workplace.”
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