Why Are We Managing Generations

Over the last several years a lot of people have made a lot of money telling business owners and leaders that to effectively manage the modern workforce you must manage the generations differently. Why? They claim these generations are all different, have different values, work practices, and motivators.

In the immortal words of my father…Horse pucky.

We are told there are five different generations. These are:

  • The Silent Generation; born before 1946 they value hard work.
  • The Baby Boomers; born between 1946 and 1964 this group values loyalty.
  • Gen X’ers; born between 1965 and 1980 this group values work-life balance.
  • Generation Y, also known as Millennials; this group values innovation and change.
  • Generation Z; born between 1995 and 2015 this group is hyper-connected via the internet and has a strong appetite for financial education.

Now maybe it is just me, a Baby Boomer, but I both value and possess all five traits of those generational groups. Further, over the last 40 plus years of my working life, I have worked alongside all of those generations, and earlier, and have consistently observed the same thing; all generations value similar things. Jennifer Deal, with the Center for Creative Leadership, says so in her book, RETIRING THE GENERATION GAP: How employees Young & Old can find common ground (Josey-Bass). She writes, “Our research shows that when you hold the stereotypes (those alleged generational traits) they don’t cast much of a shadow.” She goes on to write “Everyone wants to be able to trust their supervisors, no one really likes change, we all like feedback, and the number of hours you put in at work has depended more on your level in the organization than on your age.”

An amazing and very powerful statement. Trying to be good leaders, trying to build good cohesive workgroups and organizations we have been fed a divisive theory, based on inaccurate stereotypes, for some reason that does little to help our companies work or run better. This theory, that generational conflict is inevitable unless we manage the generations differently, is based on inaccurate stereotypes and false generalizations. A divisive theory is not a good way to run a business. Many other learned people, organizations, and nations have come to the same obvious conclusion. This social engineering by social scientists and those who embrace these stereotyping generalizations is unhealthy at best.

Make no mistake, people are different. But when we assign them a label that becomes prejudicial, e.g. Boomer (old), Gen X’er (entitled and lazy), we do not promote the appropriate environment in our workplace. Decades ago it was acceptable to assign prejudicial attributes to minorities and women, the facts have shown that to be false. In some instances this generational management theory smacks of the scientific racism we endured going back to before the civil war, only now someone has decided to assign labels based upon when someone is born.

As we look with open eyes, instead of buying into a theory that sells more books and speeches than value-added to your bottom line, we find that positive and negative attributes align with all generations.

The real solution to managing is how you treat your employees. From the very first day, you decide that you have a need for employees, through the recruiting process, how you bring them into your company as new hires (onboarding), how you grow, develop and treat them in the workplace and how, when the time comes for them to leave you, how you treat them then too.

All employees want to be respected, they want leadership they can trust, they want to be told how they are doing (both good and bad), they want to learn and they want to be valued. That isn’t a generational attribute. That is a human attribute.

So stop buying into the fads of generational differences and complexities and buy into your workforce being human. You will find that it is much more productive and costs even less