Generation wars: Can't we all just get along? - Firstline
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Generation wars: Can't we all just get along?
She's a workaholic. He doesn't get the rules. She wants a steady, independent work environment, while he prefers lots of activity and public recognition. Here's a quick guide to the care and feeding of team members from different generations.


Tips to work with them:

  • Enable a balanced life. Ask Gen Xers to forfeit their personal life and they'll feel you're intrusive. So explain why you're requesting they come in early, stay late, or work on scheduled days off.

  • Offer opportunities to learn and work independently. This might include Web-based training or assuming inventory responsibilities.

  • Answer the why. Gen Xers are full of ideas to do their jobs better and faster. So if their ideas don't work, explain why.

  • Create a meritocracy—a culture where you reward or promote people based on merit, rather than seniority.

Fig. 1

Baby Boomers (1946-1964)

Baby Boomers were the first generation graded on how well they worked and played with others. And those skills were as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic. This focus created the team-oriented Boomers in today's workplace. They feel decision-making is best handled by committee, because they want what's best for the team. Their attitude is, "If the team is successful, I'll be successful."

But other team members may feel constant meetings to discuss every issue disrupt the workday and inhibit workflow. So ensure meetings are purposeful by creating a clear agenda to address particular topics and stick to the plan.

Tips to work with them:

  • Engage Boomers in decision-making. Ask their opinion, invite them to meetings, and present change as a challenge to improve the status quo.

  • Challenge them to create change. During the late '60s and early '70s, Boomers provoked great change. People today lead more productive and fulfilling lives because Boomers yearn to improve their world. Boomers rightfully perceive themselves as constant learners and adapters, because, over their lifetimes, they've challenged and changed every stereotype in their age group.

  • Offer public recognition. Boomers want to know their teamwork makes a difference, and when you praise the team, Boomers feel personally recognized, too.

The Traditional Generation (Born before 1945)

Members of the Traditional Generation seek consistency and uniformity, and their experiences as youths have influenced their expectation of command-and-control leadership in the workplace. Big business made life easy for Traditionals because it promised lifetime employment if employees worked hard and were loyal. So Traditionals stayed with one employer forever and were grateful for the opportunity.

"You can't teach an old dog new tricks," is the common attitude toward Traditionals—and nothing could be further from the truth. Traditionals are out of retirement and back in the workplace because they want to share their experience and know-how. They complain younger generations don't tap into all they offer. While Traditionals don't look to move up the corporate ladder, they want to be treated as more than warm bodies.

Tips to work with them:

  • Train them one on one. Although Traditionals are open to learning new skills, they feel more comfortable exploring a new piece of equipment and learning the new protocol in an intimate environment.

  • Ask for their opinions. They may have a better solution, but until you ask, they'll keep it to themselves to avoid rocking the boat.

  • Tell them you value their experiences. Traditionals may not have seen it all before, but they have seen some, and they know what works and what doesn't. But remember, you won't benefit from their wisdom until you ask their advice.

  • Don't forget to say "please" and "thank you." Traditionals are, well, traditional, and they treat others—and expect to be treated—with respect, which includes good manners.

Examine your own attitude toward team members of other generations. Do you remember your younger self and the knowledge and skills you offered then? Or have you realized the knowledge and skills that come with experience?

We're drawn to people like us, so it's natural to feel more comfortable with people of our own generation. But when you reach out to members of other generations and create a team that takes advantage of the skills each of us brings to a practice, you not only create new leaders—you leverage a group of creative problem solvers who each bring a new perspective. And this multi-generational environment will help you appeal to all the clients whose pets need your care.

Meagan Johnson
Meagan Johnson is a generational expert based in Phoenix. She entertains and educates people on attracting, managing, training, and retaining employees from every generation in presentations worldwide. She lives with four dogs for a total of 15 legs. You do the math! Please send questions or comments to



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