History is in the making. For the first time in the workplace four generations exist side-by-side (soon to be five). You could well be ‘hot desking’ with colleagues that share a 5-decade gap with yourself. It’s therefore of little surprise that due to this workplace shift, the topic of the generation gap has sparked great interest in recent years.

Stepping back in time, in the workplace metaphorically speaking, ‘The Traditionalists’ closely followed by the ‘Baby Boomers’ grew up in a climate of austerity, where authority was never questioned and technology was scarcely seen. Office workers wrote formal letters and then sent them out in the ‘snail mail’, not anticipating a response for weeks. How times have changed!

Stepping forwards, we now have ‘Generation X, Y and Z’, Generation Z being the youngest, ‘digitally native generation’ are still largely in education and yet soon to join the four other disparate generations at work. Generation X and Y work much longer than previous generations and are multitaskers. They can often be seen on several digital devices simultaneously and have witnessed the birth of the term ‘google it’. With a wealth of information available to them at the tap of an iPad, these generations expect answers instantly.

With these differences in work styles conflict can arise. The older generations do not grasp the concept of ‘flexible working’ favoured by the younger generations, their lack of apparent hierarchy and structure, their pushy nature to access all information instantly and their poor communication skills resulting from abbreviated text talk. Conversely, the younger generations find the older generations slow to react, inflexible and too hierarchical. Generation Y believe they should be heard, have equal opportunities and want to know what an organisation can offer them.

Whilst it would be wrong to pigeon hole people, solely based on these subjective generational characteristics, some interesting observations can be drawn. Savvy employers can look to these differences to understand how they can better meet the needs of their workforce and utilise the strengths of each generation in a positive way. Ultimately, a diverse workforce, where the focus is on learning from one another rather than battling against each other, is likely to be more successful.

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