Generations collide in the workplace

What do we know about the psychological differences between generations at work? The Hudson talent solutions company looked into this issue in its recent study: "The Great Generational Shift: Why The Differences Between Generations Will Reshape Your Workplace." While Baby Boomers are shown to be decision makers, Generation X appears to be more ambitious and Generation Y more able to inspire than compel…


Today we have four generations rubbing shoulders in the workplace, where the age difference can sometimes be as much as half a century: Baby Boomers, aged 50 or over, Generation X, aged between 35 and 49, Generation Y, between 20 and 34 and Generation Z, under 20 years of age. Hudson focused its research on the first three generations who turn out to have fundamentally different approaches to the world of work, particularly in their ideas of leadership.


Baby Boomers, a traditional management style

From the results of the study, which was carried out the world over, Baby Boomers appear to be especially traditional when it comes to leadership. They are characterized by a predilection towards "leading a team" (knowing how to demonstrate leadership, how to guide colleagues towards a goal), being "decisive" (even within a very short time frame and in difficult situations), "motivating" (by using teams' areas of interest) and "influencing" (through their powers of negotiation and conviction). Baby Boomers also turn out to be colleagues who think strategically, and are open-minded and innovative.


Generation Y, focusing on others

In contrast, Generation Y scores significantly lower than other generations when it comes to traditional skills. People-oriented, and very strong on people skills, Generation Y tends to develop a collaborative management style, which in the future will drive them to become leaders who are better able to inspire than compel or persuade. Capable of abstract and conceptual thinking, this generation is more able to innovate and adapt to market changes than others. And, going against the generally accepted ideas people have of them, Generation Y's say they are involved, ambitious and willing to work.


Generation X, sandwiched between the two

Generation X occupies an intermediary position between these two diametrically opposed generations. More traditional than Generation Y in their leadership style, but more people-oriented than Baby Boomers, Generation X must come to a compromise with their different colleagues. Indeed, they are approached on the one hand by a young generation calling for more empathy and, on the other hand, by their predecessors who prefer a more convincing, pushier communication style.  Balancing the dominant characteristics of Baby Boomers and Generation Y, Generation X also appears to be ambitious, confident and concerned about human and social issues.


Encourage intergenerational cooperation

With such diverse psychological profiles within their teams, organizations must from now on consider their approach to leadership according to the study. Hudson advises them to understand the specific profile of each employee, and to take differences into account in order to share best practices. The challenge then is to accept the transition between a management style which was designed to control, if not simply reduce, company costs towards one which is more daring and innovative, focused on calculated risk-taking. In order to do this, it would be in companies' interests to develop leadership programs, set up teams according to their characteristics, encourage intergenerational cooperation and develop the best in each employee, as well as address their "shortcomings", and also, when recruiting, consider keeping the qualities of each generation in mind.


Florence Risueño Faure


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