Bridging the Gap

Multigenerational workers strive to remain harmonious

Multigenerational workers strive to remain harmonious

March 03, 2003|by KEVIN CLAPP

Sometimes, Charles Bonner sees co-workers at Waynesboro Hospital not giving their all. The lack of devotion goes against the intense work ethic developed since his youth.

Occasionally, Vicki Stouffer is bothered by what she perceives as an absence of effort by younger hospital employees.

At times, Ryan Adams thinks older peers can be inflexibly stuck in their ways.

Bonner is 69. Stouffer, 41. With Adams, 27, they work in the diagnostic imaging department of the Pennsylvania hospital, where the average age of employees is 42. The youngest is 18; the oldest, 71.

Their opinions are not out of character for their age groups, reflections of a divide between members of the Traditionalist, Baby Boomer and X generations. It is a gap employers have to bridge to ensure healthy, happy workplaces.


Whether in attitude or appearance, experts studying multigenerational workplaces say conflict between the ages should be a growing concern among employers and managers nationwide.

"It goes much deeper than just 'let's all play nice,'" says California-based author Lynne C. Lancaster. "Showing you have high relatability to all generations is going to give you a competitive advantage. When the world is as stressed as it is now, how we treat each other has never been more important.

"And it's easy to overlook it."

Bonner, Stouffer and Adams love their jobs. More importantly, they enjoy each other's company. Only with considerable thought can they summon irksome behaviors about those older or younger than they.

Stouffer, a boomer born in 1961, says she sees a general lack of effort among teens and early twentysomethings in society, a lackadaisical attitude that every so often spills into the hospital community.

"I wouldn't say a lot," she says. "I think how I would feel initially is perhaps angry (when it happens), but instead of venting or being hostile, I look at it as an opportunity to help people grow."

With members of the Traditionalist (born before 1946) working longer, and Millennial (Generation Y, born between 1980 and 1999) groups poised to enter the job front, the generational logjam is growing tighter.

Joined by boomers (1946 to 1964) and Xers (1965 to 1980), each generation

comes to the table with its own social values. How these four unique demographics come to terms with their differences is the great mystery, unraveling daily in businesses small and large.

By their count, Boomers are most populous, though others contend millenials outnumber even them. What is constant are the conflicts between them that come in all shapes and sizes.

Stillman and Lancaster label them ClashPoints. Here's how one, feedback, plays out across the expectations of generations:

Traditionalists - "Their model for feedback is, 'If I'm not yelling at you, you're doing just fine,'" Stillman says.

Boomers - A competitive group, Stillman says they pushed for yearly performance reviews to gauge progress.

Xers - Raised on television, they are used to instant gratification. As a result, they feel feedback should be given immediately, or certainly within a few days. Yearly reviews don't fly.

"You mean you're going to tell me in August how I did in February," Stillman says. "I don't think so."

This attitude is fueled, he says, by coming of age in a society where their parents were rewarded for company loyalty with pink slips. Now that they're part of the working world, Generation X looks for frequent feedback because, honestly, who knows if they'll remain with the company until the time for a review.

Millenials - Growing up with Boomer parents who instilled a family meeting mentality, in which everyone received a voice in decisions, Stillman says at work they want to talk issues out as much as possible.

Naturally, the ClashPoint flares if one employee's expectation does not jibe with another's. The trick, says Huntington Beach, Calif.-based human resources consultant Susan Bock, is to treat each opinion as valid.

"It's a matter of respect and acceptance, not a judgment of right or wrong," she says. "And the number one thing managers can do is solicit dialogue, input and conversation, particularly with generations X and Y. And they have to be willing to act on the information. It's not just a matter of paying lip service."

Eager to challenge themselves, Xers also demand a stimulating environment with opportunities for advancement and continuing education. If opportunities to further their education or career don't materialize ... they are apt to search for greener pastures.

True enough, Xers tend to shift jobs, on average, every three years, according to Vicki Lachman, owner of Philadelphia-based health care consulting firm V.L. Associates.

Happy as he is at Waynesboro Hospital, Adams, an Xer born in 1975, explored moving to Chambersburg (Pa.) Hospital. He opted to remain in Waynesboro in part because of new training he received.

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