Staff Development

How to Get Generations to Work Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart

May 23, 2017 4:19 pm

Flip-flops are coming, flip-flops are coming! Run for your life, or celebrate? The Traditionalists, born before 1945, might ask, “What are flip-flops?” Baby Boomers gasp in horror! Generation Xers are secretly hiding a pair or two in their closets. Millennials wear them to cocktail parties, get married in them, and consider them to be their footwear of choice.

“They don’t get it!” is the most common complaint that Haydn Shaw, author of Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart , hears about working with other generations in the workforce . That means YOU!

“For the first time in history, we have four different generations in the workplace (and five in families),” according to Shaw. If you breathe air, you cannot escape the thoughts, behaviors, challenges, or opportunities in at least one of the 12 areas Shaw calls “sticking points.” The book offers a full chapter dedicated to each one:

1. Communication:What is the best way to interact with my coworkers?

2. Decision-making: How do we decide what to do?

3. Dress code (flip-flops!): How casually can I dress?

4. Feedback:How often and in which ways do I want input?

5. Fun at work: How much fun is allowed at work?

6. Knowledge transfer: How do we pass on critical knowledge to new employees?

7. Loyalty:When is it OK to move on?

8. Meetings:What should happen in our meetings?

9. Policies:Are policies rules or guidelines?

10. Respect:How do I get others to respect me?

11. Training:How do I learn best?

12. Work ethic: How many hours are required, and when must I work them?

Perhaps you have a plan in place to deal with the various generations. Shaw says you can ignore them, fix them, cut a deal with them, or lead them. The approach you take determines the results you get.

Personally, I am what Shaw calls a “Cusper.” That means I fall on the cusp (within a couple of years) of two generations. Flip-flops hurt my feet, so I am not a fan. Do they belong in the workplace? As with any of the 12 sticking points, Shaw gives us a five-step process for dealing with issues like this one.

  • Step 1: Acknowledge.Talk (not fight) about generational differences. Get them out in the open.
  • Step 2: Appreciate.Focus on the “why,” not the “what,” and the common needs. “What” leads to finger-pointing, complaining, and fighting and is the biggest cause of generational tensions. “Why” helps those involved to understand the needs, wants, and behaviors of a different generation around a common need. “Whats” divide; “whys” unite. Shaw writes that we won’t appreciate another generation until we understand their ghost stories, and he goes into detail about the ghost stories of each of the generations in the workplace. Shared experiences (ghost stories) are what distinguish a generation in the first place. The ghost stories are a powerful part of the book.
  • Step 3: Flex.Agree on how to accommodate different approaches. Policies based on a business (or organizational) necessity may not be flexed, but everything else can. Shaw defines a business necessity as “anything that will make you lose your foot, customer, money, or funding (non-profit).” Everything else is a “generational preference.” Flip-flops worn on a construction site could cause you to lose your foot (business necessity).  
  • Step 4: Leverage.Maximize the strengths of each generation. This is leading!
  • Step 5: Resolve.Determine which option will yield the best results (when flexing isn’t enough). Decide how you will move forward in those situations where everyone’s preferences can’t be accommodated.

“So, get ready: flip-flops are coming to the workplace,” Shaw predicts. “How do I know flip-flops will be acceptable business wear? Simple: the world is not making any more Baby Boomers.”

Although this book is directed toward solving generational problems in the workplace, you will gain valuable insight that can improve your interactions with other generations in almost every area of your life. “Generational friction is inevitable; generational problems are avoidable,” Shaw writes.

I wish I had this book before my boys hit their middle to late teens! And you can be sure I will be recommending it to everyone I come across. If you read only one book this year, this is the one!

Shanna Hanson, FHFMA, CHC, CC, manager of business knowledge, is the Human Arc leader with responsibility for research and reporting to executive staff on all legislative and environmental changes and trends impacting the company’s health care markets, services and product-development initiatives.  


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