Boomers lose in workplace popularity stakes

Posted October 13, 2011, by Josie Chun

Think Gen Y is the most difficult generation to work with? Not so, according to a recent survey on cross-generational workplace relationships by Leadership Management Australasia (LMA).

Far from being the demanding, self-entitled upstarts they’re often portrayed as, Gen Y workers are viewed favourably by most managers and employees across all generational groups. They are considered easy to work with, open, receptive, energetic and flexible.

In fact, it is Baby Boomers who pose the greatest challenge to workplace harmony, according to the LMA survey. They are the ones people least like to work with or report to – even amongst themselves. Only 17 per cent of Baby Boomers would most like to work with other Boomers – 40 per cent of them would rather work with Generation X. Not surprisingly, only four per cent of Gen X and Gen Y prefer to work with Boomers.

Ironically, Baby Boomers believe they have the best relationships across all generations, while others are wary of working with them. Boomers are perceived to be inflexible and set in their ways, and inept with technology. Boomers themselves find each other self-obsessed and determined to do things their way.

‘If you believe that Generation Y is the unsolvable challenge when it comes to managing a workforce, think again’, says LMA’s Executive Chairman, Grant Sexton. ‘Baby Boomers are now the challenge. While this research suggests a much more harmonious cross-generational landscape in Australian and New Zealand organisations than many would have us believe, especially with the younger generations, Baby Boomers are not in favour.’

This finding is concerning because it is Baby Boomers who will continue to manage and lead organisations for the next decade. If they don’t want to alienate their staff and colleagues, possibly losing good people along the way, they will have to come up with ways to improve their reputation and working style quicksmart.

Luckily, close to 70 per cent of us believe that with a little time and effort, it is more than possible to improve ineffective workplace relationships.

All generations agree that the key to improving and maintaining healthy cross-generational relations is to promote effective two-way communication. Different generations rate other aspects of workplace relations differently: Gen X and Baby Boomers have a greater need for mutual respect than Gen Y; Gen X and Y want more planning and direction; and Gen Y particularly emphasise the need for more communication, with formal structures to connect people of different generations, as well as more time spent connecting. Gen Y also feels the most misunderstood by other generations.

The trick for managers is to identify the differing needs, expectations and motivations of the different generations, and look for ways to bring them closer together. It is only by closing the gap between Baby Boomers and other generations in the workplace that cross-generational harmony will be achieved.  

Josie Chun

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