Recognizing Generational Differences – THAT is the Problem

April 29, 2016


We’ve all seen myriad blog posts and articles discussing how to manage/engage/lead/*insert buzzword here* Gen Y. We’ve discussed generational entitlement in Twitter chats, and there are seemingly entire sections of the Internet dedicated to these very topics.

Today, I offer my two cents on this seemingly ever-so-pressing issue and how it may be managed effectively – not solely for Generation Y, but for all generations in the workplace.

First, let’s think about the main goal of identifying generations within the workplace. As managers and leaders, we want to know how to most effectively lead our employees. We feel it is important to know what makes each person tick. For this reason, it’s often easier to categorize groups of people into generational traits.

While I find value in studying generations in terms of psychology, I believe that doing so from a leadership role is a non-value add. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to understand what motivates each of our team members individually. We must be cognizant of how each team member functions within the team and contributes to the cohesiveness of the group.

I worry that we get too caught up in highlighting generational differences, because it’s quite easy to get lost if we’re focused on trying to characterize a unique individual based on traits that stem from the average member in their generation.

We lose sight of why we brought in a new team member to begin with. We felt this person would bring value. They have the ability to communicate. They’re motivated and believe in our mission, etc.

So, instead of abandoning the mindset of individuality, I suggest we shift our focus away from distinguishing generations back to the individual. If we fail to do so, the act of recognizing these differences leads to involuntary discrimination.

What do I mean by involuntary discrimination? In America, we try to embrace diversity and recognize said diversity by being politically correct.

While I maintain many personal opinions on political correctness, I think it breeds this type of involuntary discrimination.

For example: have you ever heard a black Canadian person refer to himself or herself as African- Canadian? Or have you ever referenced an Asian-Canadian? Indian-Canadian? Mexican- Canadian? No, you haven’t. Because Canadians all view themselves as just… Canadian. Canadians view themselves as a country made up of individuals.

The same view should be applied to our business teams. Stop focusing on whether someone is a boomer, Gen X, or Gen Y.

The bottom line is that each person in your team wants meaningful work. They want to belong to your team. They want to be heard. They want to be part of an organization that recognizes them as an important and valuable team member.

So, we need to treat them as such. Instead of “managing” generational differences, the focus should instead be to treat each team member with motivations particular to the individual and as an integral part of your team’s success until they give you a reason to not to do so.

Let’s move away from managing according to traits that have been associated with a particular team member’s generation, as it’s a very misguided way of leading.

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