The Generational Gap: "Can't we all just get along?"

by Eileen Nonemaker

Eileenís long, successful career in sales and sales management makes her an easy choice for those leaders and managers who are responsible for generating revenue and achieving corporate goals and have no time to waste getting there. Clients appreciate her ability to help them quickly select, assess, train and develop their sales teams whether they are selling products or services. New teams get brought up to speed quickly and experienced teams develop what is necessary to perform at the next level. Through goal setting, skill refinement and the development of accurate forecasting skills, she has helped both individuals and teams develop strong success strategies. Utilizing her formal training as a business coach and consultant to supplement her natural ability to connect with people, Eileen gains the trust and respect needed to interact with both leadership and team members. When coaching individual clients, Eileen becomes a 'lady on a mission' to help them succeed. Eileen is able to help them stay focused on their objectives and establish goals that take them to that next level in their personal and/or business lives. Her coaching typically involves teaching people how to set measurable goals, how to look at goals objectively and how to re-evaluate them periodically to stay on track. Eileenís goal as a coach is to help her clients find the right balance between career and family so they have the best of both worlds.

and Amy Polefrone & Kim Grounds
of HR Strategy Group, LLC

"He just doesn't have the same work ethic!" "She's stuck in the old world." "Gen X, Millennial, Baby Boomers - it's all just a bunch of labels." In fact, however, understanding generational gaps and differences has the great potential for helping to ensure business success. As our current workforce ages, a huge number of people will be retiring in the next several years and a far smaller population is available to fill those positions. And that population, coming from a different generation, thinks, lives, works and simply is different. Smart leaders acknowledge this and do what they can to make their environments more suitable and desirable for the "younger" potential employees while working to ensure the "boomers" can successfully interact and manage these incoming workers.

As usually is the case, applied knowledge is power - so let's start by defining some of these labels - while also acknowledging:

    A generation is shaped by the events and circumstances its members experience at certain phases in life, beginning with childhood. Further, these labels do not apply to everyone described in these age groupings but more so mean that certain behaviors are more typical of each age group.

Baby Boomers -

  • Born 1946 - 1964
  • Largest portion of current workforce
  • Focused on success as defined by possession and wealth
  • Often self absorbed, extremely focused and workaholics
  • Committed to one company or organization

Generation X -

  • Born 1965 - 1981
  • Tend to be free agents averaging 3 - 5 years in any one organization
  • Technologically savvy, competent and efficient with self management
  • Value work/life balance over money or career advancement
  • Received little formal training - mostly on the job, on the fly training

Generation Y -

  • Born 1982 - 2005
  • Typically the children of Gen X
  • The Internet generation - highly connected "digital natives"
  • Self-directed and individualists
  • Extremely diverse, strong need for positive feedback, technologically at the fore-front

Generation Z -

  • Born 1993 - 2009
  • Typically the children of Gen X
  • The Internet generation - highly connected "digital natives"
  • Self-directed and individualists
  • Leverage change to lead

Just these short, descriptive lists easily point out why each generation views the others differently, and thus generates friction. It is apparent to businesses that in order to continue down any successful path, they must bridge these generational gaps to create collaborative workforces. Members of each different "generation" need to be trained, managed and rewarded differently - and most importantly, these differences need to be acknowledged (and embraced) by all. For example, while baby boomers will appreciate acknowledgement of their extensive knowledge base, Gen X'ers will seek recognition for a successfully executed project or task. In understanding what drives each generation of employees and how to train and manage them according to how they think and act, smart managers can create strong collaborative workforces that can draw on the strengths of all age groups.

As challenging as generational differences are an organization's daily operations, it is just as important to understand how these generations differ in the context of interviewing and selecting new employees. Generational assumptions and biases can inadvertently impact the process, resulting in limited choices to fill key positions. It is critically important to utilize the differences between generations to identify and seek out the strengths represented by each. Melding those strengths together, and understanding how individuals in each segment of the workforce population think, will lead to cohesive, productive and supportive teams.

In future articles, we are going to focus on the Generational Gap and discuss how it applies to the interview and selection process, as well as, our external client relationships in the sales and customer service processes.