It’s a phrase we hear a lot these days. If you have ever been on the receiving end of harsh judgment, you know how painful it can be. There are valid criticisms we learn to take in stride, but there are also unfair comments related to age or gender. I have worked with many professional women colleagues and clients who have mastered the art of collaborating with intergenerational populations. The key, I have learned, is to value what individuals have to say or contribute, regardless of age or level of experience.
In her article for Business Woman, Megan Joyce says that as of May 2017, there were 153.5 million full-time and part-time workers in the U.S. At the time, they included baby boomers, Generation Xers, and millennials. Add to that the Generation Zs born 1997 or after, and Generation Alpha, born 2010 or after. “With communication gaps galore and the frictions inherent in day-to-day office life, the generations’ dissimilar values and work styles have led to furrowed brows on the best days and flared tempers on the worst,” writes Joyce.
Benefitting from the Generations
Each generation has its strengths. Their distinctive contributions can benefit an organization if we appreciate rather than judge their varying approaches to business, personal time, and life. Using information from Pew Research and Forbes, Joyce says that boomers, for instance, those born 1940-1960, are dedicated and loyal workers and high achievers who “define themselves by their professional accomplishments; indeed, their work is interwoven with their sense of self-worth. Their scale of ‘work/life balance’ tends to tip more toward the ‘work’ side, an attribute Gen Xers and millennials have a hard time understanding.”
Judge Not Each Other
The approach to work and life varies with each generation, but the trick is to avoid judging someone for perceived weaknesses. It might surprise a younger person that a mature person is technologically advanced. An alpha, one might presume, might view the workplace differently than her older counterparts, though that’s not always the case. Her work ethic may be as impressive as the boomer’s.
Joyce quotes Tammy Hughes, the CEO of Claire Raines Associates, a group that offers workplace assessments, sessions, and training videos on differing generational values and how they influence work styles, communication, project completion, and productivity.
Hughes helps employees appreciate their diversity and to recognize the “ethnocentrism” we all possess. According to Hughes, “That’s the feeling deep down inside of us that feels like: My generation is pretty stellar—we get things done, my way’s the right way, my way’s the best way. We all have those feelings. We need to just be aware that we’ve got them … that will help us get over the hurdle of just being frustrated when people don’t do things my way.”
In quoting Hughes, Joyce reports that “the benefits of generational training begin with small changes in the way employees approach one another, but those small changes often lead to big improvements that profit the company as a whole.”
Why Ethnocentrism Counts
Anthropologists define ethnocentrism as the opinion that one’s own way of life is natural or correct. Others call it cultural ignorance.
Given that more of us are living and working longer, we all benefit by respecting the diverse experiences that more mature people bring to the table while celebrating the perspectives of younger generations. If we consider all viewpoints equally, I believe we can create inclusive environments in which we thrive emotionally, professionally, and financially.