Working Across Generations
Being in Human Resources for over 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work in a variety of industries and with all generations that are in the workforce- Millennials, Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and most recently the Silents (born between 1925 and 1946). Often people comment about how their work ethic differs from others of a different generation and how they ‘just don’t understand’ the other generations. This often makes me smile, as getting to know people and what makes them ‘tick’ is something I love to do.
Regardless of our age, we all want to be successful in our jobs, like what we do, and be able to work well with our coworkers. The key to learning how to work with people from different generations is not as hard as you may think. Here are some tips on how to break through the barriers:
Establish a rapport.
To better understand someone and how they think and work, try getting to know them a bit. Some people will be more receptive to this than others, so if you find that your polite inquiries to their weekend or how they are doing aren’t met with much of a response, stick to more work-related subjects. Often, getting to know someone is on their terms, and you need to give them the room to warm up to you. If you get the vibe that someone needs some warming up, connect with them on a work level first by asking them questions about their job. This usually makes them more at ease and they will open up, with time.
Often, we spend a lot of time talking about the job we need to get done, or giving instructions to someone. If you take the time to listen to our colleagues, you can get to know them better. You can even learn more about how they work and what’s important to them. As much of the research shows, different generations in the workforce have distinct characteristics, values and attitudes towards work. When you take the time to listen and get to know what someone values, you can work together to determine how to get to the desired output. You may also learn something surprising about your coworker too!
Find common ground.
While you may be working with people who are older or younger than you, there is always something you can find in common. This is usually the step that takes a bit more time, but you’d be surprised as to what pops up in conversation to which you can relate. You may have grown up in the same town, gone to the same school or have mutual friends.
When you take the time to get to know your coworker(s), it tends to be easier to address differences without judgement. If job expectations are communicated clearly and time is taken to listen, you should have the ability to manage both your expectations and your coworkers in a productive way. In the 6 months I’ve been at the J, I have realized dozens of commonalities amongst my coworkers and myself. I’m grateful to work with such an extraordinary group of people spanning all four generations in the workforce!
About Johanna Fine: Johanna is the Chief Human Resource Officer at JCC Chicago. She joined the organization in January 2017 with over 20 years of Human Resources experience. Johanna specializes in employee relations, organizational development, succession planning, and training. Prior to joining JCC Chicago, she was the Vice President of Human Resources with the American Osteopathic Organization where she was influential in developing the HR department and creating a strategic business partner model between HR, management and staff.