Workplace Leadership: Bridging the Generational Cohorts

Leadership generational gapsGender inequality in wages and promotional opportunities used to be the hot topic in HR meetings and workplace chatter, but this issue has been overshadowed by the office talk about the Millennials (Gen Y) and how to manage their job expectations and performance.  With Millennials accounting for ~ 50% of the American workforce today and growing to 75% by 2025, businesses are wrestling with how to assimilate Gen Y with older employees who span several generational cohorts (Maturists, Baby Boomers, and Gen X).  Instead of focusing on gender inequities, many office conversations and Facebook posts make fun of the Millennials.  Might this be a broad form of cyber bullying?  Do these pokes help to bridge the gap or do they solidify what we believe to be true and allow us to vent some frustration?

Leaders should be asking themselves, “How can our company help our employees build stronger and more productive relationships across generational cohorts?”   I propose the first step is for all employees to understand the workplace landscape and appreciate what each generation brings to the team.  Questions that should be answered are: (1) what are the different generational cohorts at play within the organization, (2) what are these cohort characteristics, strengths, motivators, needs, values, and preferences, (3) what can each generation recognize as value-add from another, and (4) how can work and communication be constructed that honors and values all contributions.  A leadership coach can facilitate constructive conversation that starts the process; whereby, each employee becomes educated about the generational dynamics and actively looks for ways to productively engage the other generations.

Personal judgment should be suspended of other cohorts’ attitudes and behaviors, because good/bad or right/wrong are only relative assessments. People are products of their culture, and each generation, including Gen Z entering the workforce today, has been raised within their own unique global experiences and technology platforms.  For example, Maturists (born pre-1945), who grew up during the Depression and WW II, lacked many basic necessities and a sense of security.  As a result, Maturists drove toward the preference of “jobs for life.”

The dynamics of the generational cohorts have been compared to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where Maturists entered the workforce at the first levels with the expectations that jobs served to meet their physiological and safety needs.  On the other hand, Gen Y has been culturized during a time of American abundance and within families where children were given a priority in the family structure.  Gen Y’s parents raised them with a strong sense of love/belonging and provided activities and rewards to build esteem. Having had the first four levels of Maslow’s needs met, it should come as no surprise that Millennials entered the workforce looking to achieve the next level—self-actualization. A need for self-actualization would easily translate into the need for a job that provides meaning and a higher purpose rather than just to collect a paycheck.

Debating the fairness or reasonableness of what each generation expects from work drives wedges among cohorts rather than fostering the conversation in how to bring the generations together. Businesses need to openly talk and act constructively in bridging the generations, because each cohort has a unique ability to offer value.  Leadership coaches can help businesses facilitate these conversations.   A company cannot mandate a bridge be built, but it can encourage and provide a coach, who can help employees design and build the bridge they all want to walk across.

HE21118Davis_07-medAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach and consultant with an extensive background in business development and leadership.  She coaches individuals as well as designs and facilitates workshops that address her clients’ specific business needs.  She has a passion to help organizations engaged all its employees to their fullest potential.  Reach out to her at or 281.793.3741 to further the conversation and determine how she can help you grow your business.

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