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Generational Divide

What's the common denominator?

Today's workforce is represented by Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1981) and Millennials (1982-1999). Were it not for technology, the dissimilarities between these generations might not seem significant. However, technology has played a great role in the generational divide and has impacted workplace efficiency in a way that deserves attention.

What's more, generational attitudes and beliefs differ between generations. These differences could create workplace tension and stressful environments that distract from the agenda of the day. Acknowledging the generational tendencies of each group and avoiding stereotypes, since the lines that define these groups are indistinct, could help foster a cohesive workforce.

The Newest Generation
Millennials, also known as Generation Y and Nexters, are used to a multimedia environment. They grew up alongside the Internet and may believe instant gratification has transcended technology and become a societal norm. Some say they have a strong sense of entitlement, which could stem from their superiority complex.1

Unlike prior generations, who prefer face-to-face communication, Millennials are accustomed to electronic communication and enjoy the ability to respond instantly. They may even expect instant responses as well. While working, they can listen to their iPods and download pictures on social networks sites all at once, earning them the title of multitaskers.

They are not afraid to challenge the status quo and tend to have a speak-your-mind philosophy. They are described as impatient but hardworking, expecting to be CEO tomorrow.2 In addition, Millennials tend to be more tolerant than prior generations of social issues such as race and homosexuality.3

Who Is Gen X?
Generation Xers may have been latchkey kids and accustomed to a lot of autonomy, unlike Millennials who were raised by helicopter parents hovering over them. Furthermore, Xers may have witnessed the layoffs of their parents or neighbors. Thus, they perceive job security as a myth and tend to act as free agents with portable careers.2

The career ladder may be replaced by a career lattice whereby Xers navigate positions that accommodate their lifestyles. This pattern may not bode well with Boomers who tend to be loyal employees. Like Millennials, Xers use technology, are hard workers, want flexibility in the workplace and can multitask. Xers who are managers want to know what their employees will do for them today since tomorrow's job is not promised.2

Baby Boomer Overview
Although many Boomers are preparing for retirement, their presence in the workplace still remains strong. Boomers have a vast bed of knowledge and expertise, and they are oftentimes the ones who possess significant institutional power. They place a high value on work and it may seem like they live to work.4

Boomers, unlike other generations, bring years of experience to the workplace. Although they tend to be digitally naïve, they have succumbed to the fact that utilizing technology in the workplace is not an option. They are accustomed to the paper-and-pen style of communication and may view the overabundance of technology as a distraction. They respect workforce etiquette and may resist casual dress codes. However, it may appear their norms and values are fixed, which creates a perception of inflexibility. Their rigidity may be a difficult concept for some Millennials.

Finding Common Ground
Although stark differences between generations may create conflict in the workplace, these groups do share a common denominator -- the all too familiar managerial directive: improve efficiency. How these cohorts go about improving efficiency brings them to a central tendency to find plausible ways to manage their time effectively.

For some groups, multitasking may be perceived as the answer to improving efficiency. However, a study by researchers at Stanford University observed that students who multitasked with different media platforms retained useless information in their short-term memory.5 These students were easily distracted by irrelevant information and their ability to focus was lessened. What's more, productivity was reduced.

With the advent of technology, it is pivotal to respect that technology is not a panacea for workplace efficiency. While some Boomers may view technology as a distraction or hindrance to efficiency, Xers and Nexters may cite technology as a way to do things quicker. Despite the generational debates surrounding technology, one thing holds true: How time is managed and technology is used will impact outcomes for all generations.

Time management or how one manages their behavior affects efficiency. It requires that individuals set realistic long- and short-term goals. Actions that help achieve stated goals should be implemented.

Goals to Share
There are several key factors all generations should consider when setting goals. First, know where you're heading and identify the actions that will assist you in reaching your target. Then use a timeline to stay on track. Be sure there is congruency between your timeline and your actions or there may be a delay in reaching your specified goal.

With the advent of technology, some may feel like the amount of work has grown exponentially, but the time to complete tasks has remained constant. To be efficient, being able to set priorities becomes essential. Identify what you need to do and list it either digitally or via the paper-and-pen method. Also, when triaging actions, list actions according to their level of importance in achieving goals. If the action does not have a positive impact upon the goal, remove it from your list.

Odds are there are many distractions throughout the day and many people vying for an individual's time. However, it is imperative you stay focused on your goals. Try to create an effective schedule on a routine basis. If procrastination prevents you from completing tasks, admit it. Look at tasks that appear time-consuming or daunting and divide them into smaller tasks. This will make the tasks appear less overwhelming and increase the likelihood of you initiating the project.

Despite generational differences, the need to improve efficiency crosses all generational lines and is the common denominator that links people from all generations. However, the tools and behavioral styles used to improve efficiency are likely to differ depending on generational beliefs. Nevertheless, different generations can act as each others' resource while learning a great deal from each other. Boomers and Xers should be open to the ideas of the Nexters, and Nexters should respect the wisdom brought to the table by Boomers and Xers. With this assembly of great minds and respect for diversity, the common denominator of becoming more efficient becomes attainable.

Kenya Beard is an assistant professor at the School of Nursing at Hunter College in New York City.

1. Alsop, R. (2008). The trophy kids grow up: How the millennial generation is shaking up the workplace. California: Jossey-Bass.

2. Martin, C., & Tulgan, B. (2006). Managing the generation mix: From urgency to opportunity. Second edition. Massachusetts, HRD Press, Inc.

3. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (2007, Jan). A portrait of generation next: How young people view their lives, futures and politics. Retrieved Oct. 30, 2010 from the World Wide Web:

4. Twenge, J., Campbell, S., Hoffman, B. & Lance, C. (2010, September). Generational differences in work values: Leisure and extrinsic values increasing, social and intrinsic values decreasing. Journal of Management, 36(5), 1117-1142.

5. Tamkins, T. (2009, Aug. 25). Drop that blackberry! Multitasking may be harmful. Retrieved Jan. 24, 2010 from the World Wide Web:

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