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Steak or waffles? Overcoming the sticking point of work ethic

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With four generations in the workplace, there are vastly different definitions of what it means to have a good work ethic. Don’t avoid the tensions; get your team talking about these questions:

  • Does it matter how many hours you work if you get your work done?
  • Do you have to come in to the office, or can you work from someplace else?

Awkward silence might follow at first, but that’s okay. It’s important for teams to spend some time understanding the generational differences around work ethic by finding the common need – and that need is fairness and balance. No one wants to feel cheated or taken advantage of, and everyone wants more balance in life. Unless older generations understand the reasons why GenXers and Millennials view work ethic differently, they’ll continue seeing them as “slackers.” In the same way, the younger generations must seek to understand Traditionalists and Boomers by learning about the world in which they grew up.

Think of work like a meal: the older two generations see work as the steak and everything else in life as the side dishes. The younger two generations see life as more of a waffle, where work is one quadrant and everything else makes up the other three squares. (So please, boss, keep your work syrup off the other three squares of my waffle.)
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Leaving is legit: 3 reasons younger generations aren’t as loyal

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There are three new realities that have forced Generation X (and now Millennials) to redefine loyalty to an employer:

1) The deal is off.

My father-in-law believed that if you took care of the company, the company would take care of you. But most of us don’t believe that anymore. Organizations aren’t sure they’ll need you in four years, let alone until your retirement. Randstad’s 2009 World of Work survey discovered that 57% of workers describe themselves as loyal to their employers, but only 25% think their companies are loyal to them. (Surprisingly, this number has not been affected by the Great Recession. The percentage is unchanged since 2005, the height of the economy.)

Gen Xers get criticized for showing less loyalty than the Boomers and Traditionalists, but they know that pensions and seniority are gone, Baby Boomers aren’t retiring, and whole industries like manufacturing, telecommunications, and print media are redefining themselves, so security comes from having the savvy to handle whatever comes their way. They are ready to move on to the next best thing or to learn something new; they don’t intend to be the last person standing when the music stops. Xers don’t expect the company to take care of them; they know they have to take care of themselves. To many Traditionalists and Boomers, this comes across as self-centered and disloyal. To Xers, it’s a matter of survival.

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The biggest cause of generational tensions over work ethic

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The regional manager – who we had lovingly nicknamed “Whiskey Breath” – was coming the next day to inspect the fast food restaurant where I worked in high school. So the assistant manager asked me if I would be willing to stay late to get the place scrubbed to perfection. I needed the money for college, so we worked until 2:00 am. The place sparkled but I was dead tired.  I was looking forward to sleeping until 11:00, since I didn’t have to be at work the next day until 4:00.

Imagine my shock when my Traditionalist father (who had been raised on a farm) woke me up at 8:30 the next morning. Convinced something was wrong, I jumped out of bed and asked my dad what he needed. He replied that there was nothing pressing… it was just time to get up! He didn’t see any use staying in bed once it was daylight.

He also mentioned that he’d been up for three hours already….

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