Learning to Embrace the Generational Gap
By: Lisa Copeland, RDH
Last spring, I decided to plant a garden. Having grown up in the Northeast region of the US, with a father who is a Pennsylvania Dutch farmer, I was accustom to homegrown delicacies year-round! I now live in the Northwest region, where rain is abundant and sunshine scarce…farming would be challenging. Before starting, I researched the planting zones and visited a local nursery to chat with the experts. After purchasing the seeds most likely to thrive and the proper fertilizer and soil, I was ready to begin. Each morning started with an evaluation for the need for watering, weeding and feeding to customize a plan accordingly. Within a month, my efforts were rewarded with a beautiful garden.
The lessons learned were simple, but essential for success. Gardens need customized care based on the exposure to elements: weather, sun and soil. If any of the essentials are missing, the garden will not thrive.
The same principles can be applied to our current work force environments. In order for our teams to thrive, we must customize our generational language to create a harmonious team that is empowered to succeed.
A Generational Snapshot
Looking at a generational snapshot in the USA, each generation has personalities influenced by multiple historic events.
- Traditionalists, 1927-1945: Great Depression, WWII
- Baby Boomers, 1946-1964: Moon Walk, JFK / MLK Assassination, Vietnam War
- Generation X, 1965-1977: Watergate, Oil Crisis, AIDS, Dot-Com, Gulf War
- Generation Y, 1978-1999: Columbine, OK City Bomb, 911, Katrina
- Generation Z, 2000-Present: Widespread terror alerts, Global unrest, Abundant global access to information
Generations are Colliding
For the first time in history, we currently have four to five generations in the work force at the same time and the Friction Factor is real. Companies, large and small, are experiencing dissatisfied employees and high turnover rates. A recent study by Accenture reports the top four reasons people leave a job are: lack of recognition/appreciation, internal politics, lack of empowerment and they don’t like their boss. Most of the reasons that employees quit are under the control of the employer. From a generational perspective, we can customize our language and interaction with each group to support their needs and create a meaningful environment for all.
The right question to consider is, “How do we best appeal to each generation and appreciate them in their preferred language?” First, we need know the various generations of the company. The Traditionalists and the Baby Boomers include our more senior employees. Generation X are now taking on management roles in middle age and Y and Z compile the younger team members. Each category has a unique potential to contribute to company growth IF we speak in the generational language that best appeals to them.
Let’s say you are a Baby Boomer Director of Sales, about to provide feedback to a Generation Y, Professional Sales Representative. Your interaction with him/her from a verbal, non-verbal and technological standpoint will influence their motivation and productivity.
Take the Generational Challenge
Below are six examples of how a company can more effectively communicate with varying generations.
- Dress to meet the expectations of the oldest generation. Gen Y, if you have a meeting with a Baby Boomer:
– Men – wear a button-down collared shirt, tie and jacket
– Women – a conservative dress or dress shirt with a skirt or pants
- Generation X prefer to maximize efficiency. Email and text are the preferred forms of communication.
- The older the generation, the more they equate title with respect. Call each person by an appropriate title, “Mrs. Hall,” “Dr. Jones.”
- When providing support information about your product, determine which type of resource speaks the right language. Tangible paper resources vs. technology. Traditionalists and Boomers are not as familiar/comfortable with technology as the younger generations. Choose accordingly.
- Gen Y and Z are connected 24/7. Technology and flexibility are company cultures they seek.
- Senior teammates build relationships first…business second. Follow up with a personal phone call vs. an email or text.
Lisa Copeland has spent 25 years sharing her expertise in diverse business cultures all over the world. Her unique experience as a competitive athlete allows her to share meaningful and memorable stories in her programs. In fact, her Ironman principles actually drive her lessons on the importance of communication and culture.
The Metro Denver Dental Society is a not-for-profit component society of the American Dental Association and the Colorado Dental Association.