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Mind that generation gap

November, 2004

Mind that generation gap

Employers can increase their bottom line and improve staff morale by acknowledging that people of different generations may have different approaches to work, career and communication.

Organisational psychologist Jean de Bruyne, director of Auckland-based QED Services Ltd, outlined some of these factors in a presentation 'Mind the Gap' to a recent corporate seminar in Auckland.

"Our formative years help define who we are and how we view the world," says Ms de Bruyne.

She illustrates her point by dividing adults of working age into four approximate categories - Traditionalists (born 1922-1942), Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960), Generation X (born 1961-1981) and Millennials (born after 1982).

Each generation has its own set of characteristics: " Traditionalists tend to value hard work, dedication and sacrifice, have respect for rules, and put duty before pleasure and honour. " Baby Boomers tend to value optimism, team orientation, personal gratification, involvement, and personal growth. " Xers value diversity, technological literacy, fun and informality, self-reliance and pragmatism. " Millennials, on the other hand, are optimism, feel a civic duty, are confident, achievement-oriented and have respect for diversity. "

"The generation we grow up in is just one of the influences on adult behaviour," emphasises Ms de Bruyne. "But being aware of the value differences between people of different generations in the workplace, employers can recognise the need for different means of communication, feedback, and job satisfaction."

When generations fail to communicate, it can lead to reduced profits, increase the cost of recruitment, hiring, training and staff retention, affect morale, lead to grievances and complaints and may affect perceptions of fairness and equity. The same standard of work performance should be expected of employees, however, no matter what generation they are from, says Ms de Bruyne. And they all should comply with policies and procedures set forth by their organisation.

"Information flows in all directions in a learning organisation. The most successful leaders find a way to let every generation be heard," says Ms De Bruyne. "They recognise that no one has all the answers.

"This appreciation of diversity allows each group to contribute and be a part of the growth of a department, business or organisation."


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