Being at your best in a multi-generational workforce: how do recognition, work-life balance and flexibility co-exist?

 Recently, CASACOM helped organize the third annual PR Boot Camp for mid-level consultants with the Canadian Council of PR Firms and CPRS National.

The afternoon keynote speaker, Dr. Karyn Gordon, engaged the mostly Gen Y audience in a fun, interactive dialogue to understand the cultural DNA of different generations, with the goal of finding better ways to communicate and connect.  As the resident relationship expert for CityLine and Chatelaine Magazine, Dr. Karyn (@drkaryngordon) specializes in Generation Y and works with organizations in the US and Canada to enhance multi-generational workplaces.

While not a ‘new’ topic, this discussion is always relevant because it gives us fresh opportunities to improve communications. According to Dr. Karyn, each generation has different cultural DNA:

  • Boomers (age 49-67):  the most hard working and dedicated generation, which practically invented the 60-hour workweek. Part of the post-war baby boom, they grew up in a highly competitive world. They value recognition.
  • Generation X (age 33-48):  having grown up during two recessions, AIDS and rising divorce rates, Gen Xers learned independence at a young age.  Like boomers, they are hard workers, but have seen the impact of hard times. They value work-life balance.
  • Generation Y (age 13-32): With hardworking boomer parents, Gen Y has never been allowed to fail, thanks to overindulgence at home and school. With 75% of moms working, this generation is the ‘buy now, pay later’ group. They need to learn financial literacy, and often struggle with anxiety at epidemic rates.  They value flexibility.

 According to Dr. Karyn, the most frustration at work occurs between Generations X and Y. Generation Y can be challenged with emotion management, fear of failure (since many haven’t experienced it) and lack of control over the future. She says that Generation Y has not yet learned the resilience and independence of Generation X, and must develop emotional intelligence to be successful. 

 There were three key takeaways for everyone:  

1-     Take time to understand the context and perceptions of each generation.  Don’t blame or point the finger.

2-     Define what the word ‘respect’ — perhaps more importantly, the word ‘disrespect’ — means in a work environment. Discuss what behaviours are expected by peers and managers (eg punctuality, being asked, not told, etc).

3-     Speak up, if you have questions about expectations at work. Seek to be understood.  Don’t make assumptions.

 With millions of people planning to retire in the near future, tectonic shifts are about to take place in our workplaces.  Having an understanding of different generations can help all of us be at our best. Do you agree with Dr. Karyn’s views? What would you do to start this dialogue at work?

Carolyn Ray About the author
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