Bridging the Workplace Generation Gap – Necessary or Not?

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Among the many articles, blogs, whitepapers and books I’ve read lately, was one Avison Young whitepaper[1] that asks a provocative question: 

“Are organizations in danger of using generational stereotyping as an excuse for not engaging fully with the workforce to build business transformation solutions that drive improved employee retention and knowledge sharing?”

picture of a flat, straight wooden bridge

While the paper acknowledges that the (up to) five generations currently co-habiting the workplace do have varying perspectives, based on different life experiences, the authors suggest that workers of all generations have more in common than we might think. Specifically, the report cites the research of Jennifer Deal PhD, author of Retiring the Generation Gap. Having studied the reality of multi-generational workforces extensively, Dr. Deal believes the generational stereotypes are largely unfounded. In fact, she goes so far as to define the following 10 Principles to serve as guidelines for organizations daunted by the need to develop unique engagement strategies for each generation.[2]

  • Principle 1: All Generations Have Similar Values; They Just Express Them Differently
  • Principle 2: Everyone Wants Respect; They Just Don’t Define It the Same Way
  • Principle 3: Trust Matters
  • Principle 4: People Want Leaders Who Are Credible and Trustworthy
  • Principle 5: Organizational Politics Is a Problem—No Matter How Old or Young You Are
  • Principle 6: No One Really Likes Change
  • Principle 7: Loyalty Depends on the Context, Not on the Generation
  • Principle 8: It Is as Easy to Retain a Young Person as an Older One — If You Do the Right Things
  • Principle 9: Everyone Wants to Learn—More Than Just About Anything Else
  • Principle 10: Everyone Wants a Coach

Although the specifics around how you might address some of these principles will likely vary from one generation to another, she concludes that the principles themselves are constant and can serve as a touchstone for creating a working environment that appeals to all.

Generations: More Alike Than Different

The Avison Young researchers and Dr. Deal are not alone in questioning the validity of generational stereotypes and the degree of multi-generational workplace angst. In a paper that set out to explore those exact issues[3], Marion White describes a fruitless search for scientific evidence in support of generational stereotypes, while at the same time sharing findings from a growing body of research demonstrating strong similarities between generations rather than notable differences. For example, White cites research conducted by Ben Rosen, Ph.D[4], that illustrates much more common ground between various generations than popular perception suggests. From an extensive survey, which garnered more than 5,400 respondents, Dr. Rosen found that Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials have the same top five expectations of their employers.

  1. To work on challenging projects.
  2. Competitive compensation.
  3. Opportunities for advancement, and chances to learn and grow in their jobs.
  4. To be fairly treated.
  5. Work-life balance.

While these five expectations don’t correspond exactly with Dr. Deal’s 10 principles, they certainly reflect considerable overlap. White’s report concludes with a recommendation to employers and HR Professionals to

“focus on what the generations have in common, treat [their] employees fairly and offer them work-life balance, challenging projects, opportunities for advancement, [and] learning and growth in their jobs….Instead of focusing first on what divides us, a better approach to managing generations in the workplace may be to start with our similarities.”

Of course, none of these researchers are suggesting that no differences exist between generations or that real differences should be ignored. Rather, the common thread that emerges is a call to focus on shared, fundamental values that matter to all generations, even though they may be expressed differently. By zeroing in on those core values[5] and understanding how they’re expressed and manifested across various generations, employers can craft a work environment that bridges real and imagined generation gaps—and works for everyone.


Make it easy to identify and communicate shared values with NetSuite TribeHR

[1] Avison Young. Five Generations: Is the need for new workplace structures myth or reality?

[2] Jennifer J. Deal, Retiring the Generation Gap Summary Presentation.

[3] Marion White, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, Rethinking Generation Gaps in the Workplace: Focus on Shared Values

[4] Professor of Organizational Behavior for the Kenan Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

[5] Ceil Wloczewski,  Core Values Bridging the Generation Gap in the Workplace,

10 Signs You’re Disengaged at Work

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Everyone is scrambling to deal with the great disengagement crisis. Employers dream about what they could accomplish if only employees would fully engage. Programs and perks abound. Everyone is writing books about employee engagement, its impact on productivity and how to foster it. And yet, the needle hardly moves. An engaged employee gives a damn—about the company, about managers and about fellow employees. An engaged employee does good work because contributing to the end goal matters and doing good work matters. An engaged employee is more productive and more satisfied. So why are they so rare? We usually …

Let The Masquerade Begin!

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Halloween springs from a number of practices that would be considered highly inappropriate for the workplace: disguises, begging, trickery, and “as reported in newspapers from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s…a form of extortion, with reactions ranging from bemused indulgence to anger.”[1] Photo by Eduardo Pavon, Wikimedia Commons Halloween as we know it today evolved from the ancient Celtic harvest celebration Samhain (pronounced “sah-win”); when the world of the living and the world of the dead were thought to overlap, allowing those who had passed to return and wreak havoc. Costumes and masks …

Effective Co-Workers not BFFs

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During the recent evaluation and debrief of a year-long leadership development program, which involved teams working together to solve problems for community organizations, we learned a few things. One of the most obvious was: it’s not easy for randomly selected groups of strangers to gel into functional teams. In spite of workshops on group dynamics, coaching and a library of resources; most of the teams faced group process challenges, ranging from minor personality clashes to all-out war. A couple of teams were notable exceptions. These two teams seemed immune to the dysfunction that plagued the others. When …

Assessing Organizational Culture

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Sometimes it’s hard to define the culture of an organization. People who work there often have difficulty articulating specifics and even leaders can find it challenging to identify the elements of a company’s culture; this in spite of the fact that their own beliefs and behaviors create it. Because, consciously or subconsciously, leaders create workplace culture.   Thomas Kell and Gregory T. Carrott[1] found “that employees who work for the same corporation, no matter what their jobs, are 30% more likely to exhibit similar leadership competencies—defined as the way a person learns, deduces, envisions, …

Recognizing Engagement

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The topic of employee engagement continues to make frequent appearances across the breadth of Human Resources communications channels. Everyone involved in the management of people (or involved in educating and informing those who manage people), has been dissecting employee engagement for the past couple of years. Even Dale Carnegie’s iconic book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," has been recast as a tool for building engagement. Throughout this extensive exploration of employee engagement, many questions (like these), continue to generate debate: What is employee engagement? Why does employee engagement matter? How does it differ from job satisfaction? …

Employee Happiness: A Little Goes a Long Way

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Sometimes the job of keeping employees happy, focused and engaged in their work seems almost insurmountable. The larger the organization, the more complex the system of interactions that impact people every day. Removing all the stress and struggle from the workplace is impossible—and not even desirable since a certain amount of stress serves as a catalyst for growth, achievement and change. But finding a simple way to smooth out the daily bumps and improve employee happiness? That's something worth considering. Improving Employee Outlook and Motivation Mood Matters at Work If we can’t reduce the complexity …

3 Halloween Lessons for HR

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We’re rather fond of costumes here at TribeHR. And we typically don’t wait for Halloween to show up as, for example, a unicorn or a circus performer. Having said that, we’re totally onside with dedicating a specific day to appear as our favorite anthropomorphized cuddly animal, superhero, pirate or whatever else floats our boats. Especially if there’s candy involved—and a little competition! Unicorn by Bart Everson, Wikimedia Commons This year, our workplace Halloween party will include contests for both costumes and pumpkin carving. Carving contest-worthy jack-o-lanterns is not easy, so …

Keeping Remote Workers Motivated

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The trend toward telecommuting shows no signs of slowing down. Between 2005 and 2013, the number of remote workers grew by nearly 80%.[1] The numbers show that 50 million workers in the U.S alone could (and want to) work remotely.[2] As this data demonstrates, people who work remotely are often involved in the decision to do so. In fact, many remote workers specifically seek out roles that allowed them the flexibility to work outside the office. When asked, 79% of U.S. workers say they would like to work from home at least part of the time.[3] Working in Isolation In spite of this …

Who is the Customer?

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Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain Many organizations place exceptional customer service at the heart of their mission. Sometimes, this focus on service is the primary element of their brand that sets them apart from the competition. For these companies, customer service is “mission critical.” But who, exactly, is the customer? Typically, a customer is thought of as the client, buyer, or purchaser of an organization’s products or services. For companies who identify customer service as a key differentiator in the marketplace, however, this perspective leaves too much to chance. Every employee who deals directly with these external …

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