Friday, April 10, 2009

It’s all perspective – Leaders understanding generations

It’s all perspective – Leaders understanding generations

A couple months ago, I was checking and sending a few emails on a Sunday evening. I was catching up and the notes were not anything particularly important that needed answered before Monday morning.

Before I was finished sending the email notes, one of them was answered by a Gen Y teammate. Half in jest and half serious, I emailed back that she should not be “working” on Sunday evening. I thought the topic was closed, but the next morning I had another one of those boomer learning moments. Luckily, the teammate from the prior evening knew she could come and talk about leadership topics even if I had something to learn. She explained that my “not working Sunday night” comment showed that I did not fully understand that the Gen Y culture. That the Gen Y’s were always connected and answering a quick email was not always considered “work.” From her perspective, “boomers work too much, Gen X wants a work / life balance and Gen Y blends work and play.” Although these are stereotypes, it was an interesting new way to view at such a simple topic.

What do you think of this generalization? What are some of your experiences with various generations and their work preferences?


Allen L said...

As a pre-boomer who has been working as a freelancer since 2000, I work as I need to without reguard to day of the week or time of day BUT I feel comfortatble taking time off without reguard to day of the week or time of day.

With a smart phone and fast internet connection at home, my customer's never know.

Looking for a new project as work started drying up in 2007 has been getting worse ever since.

Avi Deul said...

It's something in local culture and it isn't a "generation business". In workplaces where it is the custom, people work in their office and at home too. You know, it is a common say that your boss gave you a cellular and a laptop. Now he can reach you 24 hours.
Dealing with update technology is much easier to the boomers, but many of my friends, (all of us passed our 50th), are well trained and can answer an e-mail or sms in a way that makes it almost like fun or a game. We got used to it that working hours are beyond office hours.

Krishna Kumar Ramamoorthy said...

John, when we try to characterise a behaviour it is easy to make a generational generalisation, i.e.say that something is a Gen X, Y or boomer phenomenon. Definitely the environment influences behaviour and some things are some deeply ingrained today that were not a few decades ago and vice versa. But to dig deeper, what is it ? Some of the key ones are :

A change in the way information technology is used : from not at all, to use as a office tool, to use as a personal tool, to complete integration with life at all times - on the i phone, wireless laptop, telecommuting etc. This results in huge overlap between work hours and home hours, even loss of complete identity in some cases

A change in the values hierarchy for one - with freedom going nearer to the top.

An environmental change in the number of career choices available resulting in more people choosing to take up careers that they truly enjoy versus ones that provide a living.

A change in maturity and decision making abilities, with career choices being made by individuals with lesser or even little or no external influence, parental or otherwise, resulting in greater ownership and joy in the work

The information and media explosion resulting in a need to and in some cases almost a paranoid need to remain updates at all times ( ie look at the headlines on 24 hr channels, yahoo, or even streaming news into the phones)

Im sure there are more that others will fill in

Great topic, again.

Ada Gonzalez said...

Ada again. It so happened I found this awesome video in UTube that explains some of what generation Y is about. Check it out!

Mark Herbert said...

It is interesting that as Ada points out the diversity represented by generational differences is every bit as real as other differences. The "new" generations have grown up in a world where technology offers instant access and communication in a way that many of our generation is still mastering.
I have focused my leadership modeling on engagement using a management model I call moving from compliance to commitment. I have found it resonates across generations, but especially with Generations X and Y.
They ask a good question, why do we get so caught up in processes and anal about labeling work versus play?
Like your Gen Y colleague I check email periodically and respond if the mood strikes me. I don't worry about the work/non work boundaries.

John E. Smith said...

Hi, John - interesting issue.

BTW, I'm responding to this on a beautiful spring morning in the Heartland, where the bike paths and fresh air call to me. Sigh . . .

I have posted on this in other forums, so I'll be brief here. I think we make too much of the superficial differences between large groups of people based on generational identity. While the experiences and language can be quite different based on when you were born, there are other factors which are equally as important.

I was raised in a rural Midwest conservative environment, at the same time as others in my generation were living in major metropolitan areas. While we both experienced the Kennedy and King assassinations, Vietnam, and the Moon landing, I know from talking to my "peers" that our experiences are distinctly different.

So I think cultural/social dynamics are at least as important as generation.

My second point is that people share different behavioral styles across generations. A Generation Y introvert, as identified by the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), will behave more like a Boomer introvert than a Generation Y extrovert, at least in my experience. The fact that the Gen Y listens to an IPOD and the Boomer has a stereo is not important - that they both enjoy music is a bridge preference.

BTW, I Tweet (@JohnESmith) and you are correct that this type of micro-messaging is probably the communication tool of the future. However, I follow plenty of older Tweeters and have seen no significant difference in the quality of the Tweets between generations. Quantity, yes, but quality, no.

I am not unaware of the diversity that the generations bring to our workplace and it will be especially interesting to watch as the older generations continue to work past retirement age. I just think other factors than age contribute to the differences that employees bring to the workplace and of which all good leaders should be aware.


Cynthia Guy said...

Color me confused but where's the difference? You wrote, "I was checking and sending a few emails on a Sunday evening. I was catching up and the notes were not anything particularly important that needed answered before Monday morning.

Before I was finished sending the email notes, one of them was answered by a Gen Y teammate. Half in jest and half serious, I emailed back that she should not be “working” on Sunday evening."

Both of you were doing work during off hours. I guess I must've misunderstood because weren't you both doing the same thing?

While I certainly think there are generational differences (1 client in his late 50's has a goal of never touching a computer before he retires and a 25-year old client has three pda's, two cells and a tablet that are almost worn as accessories - I can reach her at two in the morning if necessary), I think technology has allowed many of us to maximize our best working times and methods. Examples: one colleague and I frequently e-mail at 4am (both morning people), another client prefers to open and answer e-mails late evening (if I need something sooner than the next morning, I know to call her.),

Barbara Perino said...

Your Gen Y teammate described exactly the typical mindset of the various generations. Although they may seem like stereotypes, I don't think they are. Throughout all generations, events, circumstances and cultural changes affect how people live their lives and process information. I am an early Boomer but I embrace how the younger generations find life/work balance a bit easier and are more open to stepping out of the box. I have read books on the various generations and I conduct workshops around this subject. At the end of the day, there is huge learnings from every generation that we all can learn from and integrate into our lives. Boomers can teach the younger generations the value of human contact; the Y Gens can teach the Boomers the value around the convenience using technology. The X Gens love to question things and they see the value of making time for family and work. Being aware of how people process information, have different work styles (but are still effective) and communicating what needs to be said, will be the way companies will find the least amount of frustration.

Emily Maclin said...

I think this is an extremly fascinating topic. Although these are generalizations, I must admit, they are pretty accurate at least in my experiences dealing with different generations. In one particular instance, I have referred to them to figure out just how to movtivate a traditionalist on a team that I was leading. I think having a good understanding of the generations, really improves the cohesiveness of a team.

I also think it will be very interesting to see how the dynamics change as the generation Y grows up in the company. Communications styles, leadership styles, I think it will be a very different atmosphere. If you think about, there will probably not be a need for all the layers of management that exist now within the company. As you mentioned in another blog, the leaders and executives of the company will be 2.0 savvy. They will be able to instantly access information, analyze it, without the scurry of a whole team to gather data for decision making.

Michael Hren said...

It's great to hear of any present or past leader venturing in blogs (either on the intranet or internet). It can be a fast & personal form of communication that goes beyond what an e-mail or a news release on a static web site can do. Thanks for keeping the momentum going. Another great book is "Blogging for Business". Written by a former Boeing employee. .

It helps you understand the commitment that is necessary to making a successful blog.

Mónica Díaz de Peralta said...
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Mónica Díaz de Peralta said...
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Mónica Díaz de Peralta said...

I also am not sure it is a generational thing. I know I can identify with your colleague! I LOVE my work and if I am around and checking mail and your question is interesting I might respond at 2 am. I blur play and work a lot, because both are a source of deep pleasure for different reasons. I think it is about the attitude. Do I HAVE TO be available 24/7? Then, it feels like a burden to have to answer even onn Sunday... Am I free to work whenever/wherever I like? Then, it becomes fun! The wired world is so different from the presencial one!

Gregg Miner said...

The advent of the Blackberry enabled the Gen Y's to enjoy work and play together. As a late boomer I have to agree with them. I was ofrtunate enough to work for a very progressive company with Blackberry's first came out. Don;t remember the year, but around 94 -95 I believe. Since then, I have had one hooked to my hip and love it.

At one point I was able to run a $100 million aerospace company and spend time with my family at the same time. Not sure if that's work/life balance or work and play.

With that said, what I fear going forward is the newer generations are losing the skill of one - to - communication and story telling. Just last month my 18 year old son sent 15,000 texts. Considering a 16 hour waking day that one every 2 minutes. From his comments, this quantity is now too unusual. With this being the case many of the texts (communications) are 2 - 3 words. Maybe I'm old, but that's not real way to communicate.

From a work preference the short attention span seems to carry over in my opinion. The younger generation is used to speed and short concise answers from management. Many companies don;t have processes that enable this.

In my current business doing lean transformation consulting, the younger generation are like sponges. The speed of making decisions in a lean enviornment excites them. Also the ability to make changes to a process is beneficial. The boomers, tend to be the roadblocks to change.

With this one of the main drivers I work on with companies is understanding their culture and their generational make up. From there we can work on leader development to drive successful change into the organization and processes that energize the troops.


Cathy Curry said...

I don't consider replying to an email as a generational anomaly, only because I'm at the tail end of the baby boomer generation. I like to keep up with all of my family, friends and coworkers so I will check my BB from work on a regular basis and respond back to those items that I need to or call if needed just like I would for a personal email. I find that some members of the boomer generation do have issues relating to those 20+ younger then themselves but I guess that it's a reflection of how you relate to those in your daily lives that are younger then you are. I only state that because I'm the youngest of four by 15, 14 and 5.5 years to include having nieces and nephews that range from 5 years younger then myself to 21 years younger.

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