Walk into any place of business – from retail stores to manufacturing plants to white collar offices – and it’s clear that American workers are all at the same crossroads.
That is, there are multiple generations of workers, each with different goals, objectives, and motivations, working together. Or at least, trying to work together. See, the friction among generations can pose quite a challenge for employers. But realizing that folks are more alike than different can go a long way in resolving these conflicts, and office team building activities are one way to encourage this outlook.
Across Four Generations
Much has been made in recent years of the uptick in Millennials joining the workforce. But what does that really mean? Who are you working with? Here’s a broad overview of the folks you’re likely to find yourself working for, or with:
Born 1981-2000, these are young adults who may be just getting their first “real” full-time job. Roughly 75 million-strong, they’re the biggest generation since the famous Baby Boomers, and meaningful employment is important to them. They’re comfortable with technology – they’ve always had it, so they think nothing of – even prefer – using text or email to carry out business tasks. Millennials at work can be characterized by their easy sociability and independence. Many like working in settings where they can collaborate and also receive regular feedback, Multitasking is no big deal. One question they may be likely to ask when assigned a task is “why?”
Born 1965-1980, the 50 million men and women of Generation X, or GenX, are pretty much at the middle of their careers. They’re not new to the work force, and they can often be characterized by skepticism, individuality, adaptability, and self-confidence. Most have more than a passing familiarity with technology and have strong feelings about work/life balance; to many, their job is more of a contract than a calling.
They thrive in a more informal employment setting, as long as they have regular access to information and management as needed. It’s likely that they have no problem using tech to carry out business, but will probably bristle at getting called during evenings and weekends, which may be dedicated to family time.
Born 1946-1964, they’re used to being the biggest generation, with roughly 80 million members. They’re pretty driven to success and willing to put in long hours; they’ve picked up technology as needed, but usually still prefer direct human contact by phone or in person. Baby Boomers may be more likely than others to prefer a democratic management style, where fairness is important and everyone gets a say.
Born in 1945 or earlier, this is a shrinking segment of the workforce, but those who are still working are probably known for their dedication, loyalty, positive attitude toward their job responsibilities, and following the rules. These folks are pretty comfortable with a hierarchical chain-of-command at work, and are likely to be the quiet, self-sacrificing type.
While at first glance, it may seem that there’s little in common among these four generations of workers in any given workplace; however, when you dig a little deeper, it’s clear that in fact, there are. Even though there may be broad differences among generations as a whole, these differences are much less likely to stand out among individual employees. And it’s with these commonalities that you can build connections. One of the best ways to bring this to the attention of employees is through team building opportunities.
Many of these descriptive terms used to describe different generations reflect rough shades of meaning but are inherently similar. Here’s a brief example – imagine the boiler begins leaking furiously just 15 minutes before a big client meeting. Chances are the Baby Boomer (good in a crisis), the GenXer (flexible), and the Millennial (responsible) will pull together and work towards a solution. They clearly share a common commitment to the work even if they go about if in different ways. Carefully planned activities can take this same idea and replicate it on a larger scale, so that this insight can be gained by all employees.
And that’s what’s essential to remember: these generations are characterized by shared attributes revealed in varying intensities. Hosting events and activities designed specifically for team building can illuminate these similarities. Look for the common elements among employees when communicating – whether it’s to give praise or resolve conflict. If you can see it and make the connections, you’ll be showing your employees how to also.
Managing Generations as a Metaphor for Life
Taking the ideas above a step further, consider how Millennials are generally thought of in the workplace, and realize where they are in their career trajectory. They’re kind of like the new kid on the block, right? So in that context, it makes sense that they’d want additional feedback. Millennials aren’t trying to be special snowflakes who need constant praise – they’re new to the workforce and would like clarity and direction because they want to do a good job.
Employees in the GenX and Baby Boomer generations have much more experience and a greater awareness and comfort level with the working world; they have different needs, and also different talents to lend as far as mentorship and leadership opportunities with younger employees.
Office Team Building Activities Make the Difference
It’s easy to assume that working with Millennials is an unsurmountable challenge. However, when taking a long view of multiple generations in a single workplace, it can be easier to see that there’s more in common among age groups than not. Considering where Millennials are in their career path compared with GenXers and Baby Boomers also offers strong context for a lot of potential conflict, as well as conflict resolution. Hosting office team building activities can facilitate bridging the gap among generations and spark a newfound spirit of working together.