RESPECT is the Word: Engaging All Generations at Work

It may seem tricky to manage generational differences. But it’s actually quite simple when we realise that though we are different, we all want respect. Respect takes a different meaning across the generations. To increase engagement across the generations, I conducted a “Love ’Em or Lose ’Em” workshop in the Civil Service College recently. Three generations of public officers shared their needs and engagement strategies that work for them.

1Generation Y
A group of Gen Y managers who were participants in the workshop said, “Being the youngest in the workforce, we want to be respected and taken seriously.” A key driving force amongst Gen Y managers is a need to prove their worth, so achievement and recognition become especially important. When we understand this psychological need, we can be more empathetic towards Gen Yers’ behaviours that older generations commonly perceive as being unrealistic, pampered and impatient.

Strategies to engage Gen Y managers are 1) rewards, 2) career development and 3) empowerment. Meaningful rewards take the form of public awards and thank- you emails. Other than career progression, involvement in special projects and learning of new skills were also reported to be appreciated. Gen Yers want to be empowered and trusted with responsibilities.

This also means being a facilitator or coach to them, rather than being their teacher and telling them what to do. For example, ask them questions to prod their thinking and let them come up with their own answers.

Baby Boomers
Baby boomers see respect differently. A director from an institute of higher learning said, “We grew up playing in this old cinema that has been torn down and in its place is a skyscraper now. So change can be disconcerting. Sometimes we want to reminisce because the past is a part of us.”

Part of the past that baby boomers hold onto is their experience accumulated over the decades. Respect for their experience and knowledge takes the form of listening. “When you ask for our opinions, please listen. Don’t brush our opinions aside or complete our sentences!” exclaimed another baby boomer manager. She was referring to her younger superiors who perceive her experience as “something irrelevant from the past”.

This does not mean baby boomers expect blind agreement to their ideas, because “we can agree to disagree”. Most baby boomers know ultimately the boss, who may be younger than them, makes the decisions. However, earn their respect by showing your understanding that they had a past different from yours.

Generation X
With much attention placed on tensions between Gen Yers and baby boomers, a Gen X manager described their group as the middle child. “In fact, we are the ones who face the most pressure from all sides,” he continued. “At work, we are sandwiched between senior management and younger staff. At home, we have young children and elderly parents to take care of.”

“Respect our time,” urged another Gen X manager. “When meetings overrun, we are late to pick our kids from childcare and we need to pay fines.” Within this is a need for respect that Gen Xers play many roles – as a parent, child, manager, subordinate and colleague – and are balancing several priorities at the same time.

Do not make them choose between family and work, because we know what will give way over time. Flexibility, family- friendly practices and career growth at a steady pace will help them juggle their different balls.
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