Learning how to cope ‘when generations collide’
Representatives of four different generations packed the community meeting rooms, Oct. 16, at Christian Hospital for the Diverse Nurses Connection Fall Social. And that’s the point, said guest speaker Shawn Lang, MSOD.
The event was hosted and organized by the North Region Diverse Clinicians Connections group, part of the Diverse Nurses Connection. Kimberly Clark and CoKeshia Van Hook co-lead the group.
Lang, a Kansas City-based author and organizational development expert, told the crowd that age is a type of diversity companies and their employees often forget about. But it’s especially important now that workers from five different generations, for the first time, are together in the workplace.
Each generation brings its own distinct influences, experiences — and value — to the workplace. But each has its own approach to work and life. Taking time to understand these distinct views can avoid workplace conflicts and help organizations attract and retain the employees they need, she said.
The generations firmly in the workplace include Traditionalists, born between 1928 and 1945; Baby Boomers, born from 1946 to 1964; Gen Xers, born from 1965 to 1980; and Millennials, born from 1981 to 1996 — with Gen Z, born in 1997 and after, currently entering the workforce.
Their differences stem from how they were raised by the generation before them and the events that happened in their lifetime, said Lang. As a result, they value different things.
For instance, traditionalists, born during the years of the Great Depression and World War II, grew up to value stability and are likely to stay in the same job for a long time. Millennials, on the other hand, children of the constantly evolving tech world, tend to stay in a job long enough to get some skills in their toolbox and then move on — sometimes to an entirely different career, Lang said. “Their career path doesn’t need to be a straight line.” Gen Xers, on the other hand, tend to have “portable” careers — taking their skills to different work settings in the same field.
Generations respond to management differently, too, said Lang. Whereas traditionalists prefer a well-defined chain of command, millennials don’t like the idea of being “managed.” Rather than be told what to do and being expected to obey, they prefer a collaborative work style, she says.
These different generational points of view can lead to conflicts in the workplace. When managers and co-workers realize that conflicts are generational, rather than personality-based, they can resolve and prevent problems by taking the time to understand other generations.
“It can be as simple as a conversation,” Lang said. “People start talking about it and they start having these ‘aha moments.’ You can see the light bulbs going off.”
Knowing how to appeal to each generation can also help employers recruit and retain employees, Lang noted. For instance, she advises human resources departments to not advertise just an open nursing position, but to describe exactly what the person will be doing in the job. Using keywords like “technology,” “deadline driven” and “collaborative” helps applicants identify jobs that they’ll be a good fit for, she said.
As people live and work longer than ever, and with Gen Z (also called “the net generation” or “Gen 9/11”) making their way into the workforce, employers, managers and team members need to remain sensitive to each generation and remember that each brings value, as well as differences, said Lang.