Different Generations: Can We Learn From Each Other?

Different Generations: Can We Learn From Each Other?

The last two weeks I had back-to-back traveling, training and speaking. While my number one topic is women-how to recruit them, how to give them great training, how to retain them and how to promote them into leadership roles, there were a number of questions about how to integrate different generations into an environment that encourages learning, new skills sets and positive dynamics. That was an amazing addition to the discussion and it made me think about how different generations work, use technology and could and should play nicely together.

When we think about how different generations work together, many times we go right into technology and how the younger generations are so knowledgeable with their smart phones, social media and anything else that is new and innovative. Of course we also forget when the first pager or fax machine came out. Wow we were so cool to think we had this new piece of equipment that made our lives faster and easier and sooner or later our parents understood the value and it became second nature to us all.

Remote controls for your television has been and continues to be something that no one truly understands why we need two or three of them to adjust channels, volume, on demand or the other hundreds of things they do and still we all find nothing to watch. We would always kid around and say “Ask your kindergartner to program it in”…and we meant it.

When I first started to be a “pro” and I am using air quotes for that, on social media I knew I had a FB account and the beginning of a LinkedIn profile. That was enough for me. However, when I started my business, I hired someone to help me with social media as I knew it was the way to connect with 1:many instead of always 1:1. The person I hired was absolutely amazing and he taught me so much my head was exploding but I did know enough to be somewhat dangerous.

I learned how and when to post and how to schedule my posts if I chose to use Hootsuite or any of the other apps available. He encouraged me to have a presence on Twitter and I told him I feel like Betty White when she said she knew how to use FB and “The” Twitter…ancient was what I told him I was feeling when he made that suggestion…but he was the master and I the student and so I did get onto Twitter.

Funny thing, after being on Twitter for a few months I actually got a client. No it wasn’t saying hi and asking them to become a client. It was building a relationship online which was not too different than what I did in person, minus meeting them in person. In any event, I told him and this is what he said, “Isn’t that amazing? Tell me how you did it so we can make sure you repeat it.” He could have easily said “Told you so”…but he was wiser than his years.

My point is we can learn so much from other generations when it comes to our businesses…if we give each other the opportunities to share and learn. Sometimes we are so fixated on the differences in the negative rather than the positive that we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and possible failure.

A survey of 500 executives uncovered that 80% of them found communication across the different generations to be the most challenging issue and to go one step further, it was how the different generations perceived technology. In that technology heading is communication and each generation has a preference in how they want to communicate. Here are some facts:

The traditionalist or someone in the 60’s want to have a conversation. The Boomers will ask you to call them on their cell. Gen X prefers an email while Gen Y will want to text. The newest generation Z will want to tweet. This can be confusing if you are stuck in your ways. A simple solution is to ask how they prefer to communicate just in case your Boomer is a Tweeter. And hopefully no one will request you to SnapChat with them.

In reality though, the younger generations have always been somewhat impatient with the older generations…we’ve just added technology to the mix. They can’t understand why the Boomers are not as enthusiastic with some of the latest and greatest technology that comes out every few seconds. It does go the other way because the Boomers can’t understand the fascination with sharing every detail of your personal life on social media that the younger generations seems to do every other second and why they are always looking down and missing things right in front of them.

Let’s agree though that all generations are somewhat dependent on technology for both their personal and professional lives. The reason they use it might be slightly different. For the younger generations, it’s really about getting connected while the older is more about getting information. Both fulfill those needs and eventually they will find more reasons to use the technology in front of them.

Now that we are in agreement about technology and the generations, let’s think about how we can keep our generations motivated:

  • Promote collaboration and celebration.
  • Understand individual work styles and how people like to be recognized for accomplishments.
  • Make the customer the priority. This has everyone working together on a common purpose.
  • Enable personal growth and work/life balance. This is something all generations appreciate and are striving towards.
  • Develop a mentorship program. We know that as mentors we learn a lot from our mentees so have each one take on each role.
  • Define culture in a way that can be explained to everyone.

What about the different generations of women in the workplace? I bet you will find that we have lots of things in common with the most common challenge…work-life balance. We all want the ability to pursue a career and have a family…it’s that balancing act we all struggle with. We may have more choices in front of us but one of the things we do find is being judged by making choices that may not be as popular with other women. For instance, choosing to have a career vs. being a stay-at-home mom. While some of us want it all, there are others that realize while you can have it all, you just can’t have it all at the same time.

Here’s the reality:

  • There are ten thousand Baby Boomers that reach retirement age every day
  • 75.3-million Millennials are poised to replace them
  • By 2020, millennial women alone will account for 25% of the global workforce
    • They are independent and unafraid of technology and change
    • They want a voice and they want to be on committees, to be decision-makers who develop processes and policies
    • Highly educated-36% of them have college degrees versus 28% of male Millennials
    • Sophisticated and strategic…more than any other generation

Here’s where you will see how the challenges of all women, no matter the generation, are the same:

The top five reasons millennial women would leave their current position –

  • 43% said they found a job that paid more elsewhere
  • 37% said their work and personal life are out of balance. They want more flexibility
  • 36% said there is not a fair balance between how hard they work and the compensation they receive
  • 32% said there are not enough opportunities for career progression.
  • 28% said the work is not as interesting and meaningful as they would like

The truth is, while we might find 4 different generations and in some cases 5 in one business or company, we are more alike than we all believe or are told we are. We are women trying to do our best for ourselves, our companies, our families and each other.

George Will says, “The most important business of one generation is the raising of the next generation. Nothing else you do in life will be as deeply satisfying…”

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