The degree of change that the world has seasoned over the past 50 years is a staggeringly high amount, and the pace at which many of these changes have come about is no less impressive.
One part of life which has not escaped these vast changes is the business world. Modern companies may operate within the same fundamental principles of profitability that have governed commerce since it began, but many of the traits of a successful organisation trading in the modern arena would seem foreign to businesses of the past.
An interesting problem that modern businesses face is how to manage the different generations of people who make up their staff. This problem has been about for a long time, but as the needs of organisations change and the skills necessary have evolved, the differences among workers have become more obvious.
This is partially due to the ever increasing life expectancy of people, particularly in first world countries, which in turn prompts an ever increasing retirement age. Since people work to a later point in their lives, they may remain with the same organisation into their late 60′s or early 70′s, and often as hands- on workers rather than merely sitting at the board.
There is also a demand for a more diverse set of skills in the progressive business surroundings, triggered largely due to the swift development and wide reach of computer technology. Corporate processes, both internal and external, have undergone radical changes which require a fresh way of thinking. These new ways of thinking are most commonly found within the younger working age group.
One of the most common problems that face a modern enterprise that is operating with a number of distinct generations in its workforce is related to technology. Computers are commonplace in our lives these days and they form a vital piece of the business puzzle. This computing power can help businesses to run well, but they are only as capable as the people who work them.
There are also generational problems when it comes to outward business aspects such as the law. New laws and business best practices are being created all of the time and important business decision makers need to be aware of any that apply to their business. This can be said of sales and promotional options that have come forth with the rise of the Internet.
Outside of this, there can be problems with communication between different generations of worker, psychological limitations of the older personnel in an organisation and the need to fulfil a range of diverse needs and aspirations to keep an entire workforce happy.
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The need to manage generations in the workplace may seem like an unnecessary task, but the differences between the generations of worker that are often found in business are worth taking note of.
Mature, or “traditional”, employees are the oldest that would be found in a modern business environment. They are the people who were born before the Second World War, and will be in their late 60′s or early 70′s.
Their approach to business and life in general is one of organisation and obedience. They were expected to make personal sacrifices for the greater good, and while this belief was nurtured beneath the shadow of a global conflict, lots of the older generation still harbour this opinion nowadays.
Since many of the mature generation will hold senior ranks within a company their views and opinions will generally carry more weight than those of younger generations. Their decisions will often be fundamental to the business and sculpt the future success or failure of the organisation. This disparity between modern thinking and business control requires direction.
The Baby Boomer generation includes those born between the end of the war and the mid- 60′s, when there was a general down turn in the birth rate around the world. Baby Boomers will be aged between 45 and 65 approximately and are likely to form the vast majority of management roles within a contemporary company.
This generation grew up without a lot of the oppression and discipline that was more normal amongst previous generations. They are an aspirational group of people that are very family- oriented.
When it comes to the workplace, this group of workers will often be able to grasp the bigger picture while still maintaining a grasp on modern developments in terms of technologies and business processes. Their family- oriented character tends to see them working well in teams, although it is often noted that they are not at ease when taking criticism(no matter how constructive) , and they are not good at giving feedback to other workers. These communication problems can become very disruptive in a business environment.
Members of Generation X were born between the mid- 60′s and the late- 70′s. They will be presently aged between 30 and 45 and will be spread amongst the various levels of management within a modern business.
Socially they grew up in very demanding times. Careers were an ever more important and defining part of people’s lives and this was made clear to Generation X from a very young age. Many will have progressed through lower and higher education prior to working their way up within one or maybe two companies.
As such, they are often very good at problem solving and meeting short- term objectives but may struggle to grasp how their contribution affects the big picture. They will be motivated by monetary benefits rather than a sense of duty because they feel they have paid their dues through a life of study and work. Generation X need close management to ensure their efficient contribution to the company.
This generation were born after 1980 and are the youngest collection of people currently at work. They have borne witness to a changing social climate where being an extravert is seldom frowned upon. They are most open to radical ideas and procedures and find hyper- consumerism and relatively competitive marketing to be second nature.
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The Working Environment
We are all familiar with the gap between the elderly generations and modern technical equipment. Whether it is a parent only just coping to operate a new mobile phone, or a grandparent being truly confused about what the world wide web is, the void between the old and the new becomes very apparent when it comes to technology.
In regards to the modern organisation, problems involving technology might have very far reaching implications. Computers are critical to many aspects of business, from operating payroll, to perform core tasks and even providing a channel for promotion. As such, an employee who’s not familiar with the technologies being used by an organisation is likely to find difficulties in many parts of the business.
The same principle can also be applied in reverse. The younger generations might be very comfortable with emerging technologies and practices, but may lack knowledge of the other systems that still perform many of the important functions of the organisation.
There are obvious physical factors that may influence how a successful company manages its workers in regard to age. Older generations will by and large by physically inferior to their younger counterparts, and consequently they will be less suited to roles that require physical exertions.
Luckily, most of the older generations of employee will have advanced to senior levels of management within the business they work for, and these roles reward based upon understanding and experience rather than physical capability.
Modern companies are faced with physical conditions that companies of the past would not have had to confront. Complaints such as RSI, or repetitive strain injury, have become much more frequent since the widespread introduction and use of computer keyboards.
The desk setting itself may create a number of problems if the ergonomics of any specific workstation are not good. Back problems and joint problems can develop after long intervals of sitting incorrectly, and long durations of exposure to computer monitors can contribute to long- term eye impairment. Tests are on- going to investigate the full scale of the impact of the modern workplace on the body.
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The control of generations in the workplace has received greater exposure over recent years and many additional companies have been made aware of the benefit of good generational management. This has spawned a number of new ideas and routines that are in one way or another aimed at developing the working relationship between the business and its workers, no matter how old they may be.
If there are specific roles within your business that are best suited to a particular generation then it is often beneficial to only use members of that generation to perform the task. This kind of specialisation demands good organisational control.
There are a number of ways in which your company can learn about managing different generations of employee. Seminars dedicated to the topic have become a more common event in recent times, and the amount of useful information that can be obtained from these occasions can be of great benefit to an organisation.
There are also many resources available on the Internet that discuss the problem in greater detail, and draw together a range of different ideas for tackling various situations.
If setting your own administrators the job of learning about generations within the workplace does not seem appropriate there are many business consultants that now include the idea of generational management into their practice. Employing their services could be the most recommended method to address your own business situation.
Different generations of worker can find that it is hard to work collectively. They have grown up in distinct times and learnt about a planet that has been continually changing. There are not simply concerns when it comes to the language used for communication, but issues of manners and etiquette.
Each generation is also stimulated by different things, and have come from various social upbringings. It will rarely be the case that one solution can be applied across numerous generations but it is also crucial that you make sure that your company does not micro- manage different age groups working for it.
Contemporary businesses have a varied range of skills requirements and these requirements simply cannot be fulfilled by just one of the generations discussed on this page. As is so often the case, the route to success depends upon finding a balance between the generations- utilising the strengths, mitigating the weaknesses and motivating accordingly – through informed and empathetic management.