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Archives for March 2014

FAQ #2: Arent generational differences really just life stages?

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Today I’d like to address another of the most frequently asked questions I receive about generations: Aren’t generational differences really just life stages?

Not exactly. While there are many characteristics and behaviors that can be attributed to specific stages in life, these stages are shaped and impacted by the experiences and values of each generation.

When people complain that Millennials are postponing adulthood and stretching the time they spend experimenting with different careers and identities, they forget that the same was said about the Baby Boomers and Xers when they were in their twenties.

Yet each generational experience has been different, and we can’t ignore that. Here’s one example: Boomers spent more money than Traditionalists did at each stage in life because they didn’t experience the trauma of the Great Depression. They went through the life cycle milestones, but with greater optimism about money. And yet those high, optimistic expectations have also caused Boomers to have, overall, less satisfaction with life than other generations.

Admittedly, generational research is not an exact science, and it’s impossible to completely distinguish life stage behaviors from generational differences, especially when people are in their teens. But over time, enough data comes in from surveys, voting patterns, and purchases to see significant differences emerge so that we can confidently identify a new generation.

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FAQ #1: Aren’t generations more alike than they are different?

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Today I want to address one of the most frequently asked questions I receive about generations: Aren’t generations more alike than they are different?

The short answer is yes. But according to Pew Research Center, 79% of the public sees a generation gap in points of view. This might seem like a bad thing, but in reality, it isn’t.

Obviously, we don’t need sociologists to tell us that a 75-year-old votes, works, or buys differently than a 35-year-old. We see it for ourselves at family reunions or in meetings at work. But recent polling by Pew also reveals that while our society is noticing this generation gap, they’re not so sure that the gap is really causing huge problems in our organizations or families – just sticking points we need to overcome. This is great news! It means that generational tensions are inevitable, but generational problems are preventable.

While generations are certainly more alike than different, those generational sticking points can still sidetrack your team, so they can’t be ignored. Most people can relate well to two of the generations but not all four. This is why marketers spend millions of dollars to pinpoint generational differences. How are you helping your employees relate to all generations? How are you preparing your salespeople to sell to them?

Good leadership will work with everyone because people from all generations have the same basic needs. They need to be treated like whole people, not managed like things, and then they will volunteer their best. Understanding generational differences will enhance your effectiveness by allowing you to flex your approach to make each generation more productive.

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Video: Leading multiple generations in the workplace

Today I’m featuring a video that’s a few years old but still very much relevant when dealing with multiple generations in the workplace. From the 2010 Chicagoland Learning Leaders Peer-networking Breakfast:

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