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Understanding Generational Differences, What They Bring to the Table

Sue Hawkes

Baby boomers don’t understand millennials. Millennials are more demanding than Generation X. Generation Y is stuck in the middle. And the Greatest Generation is wondering what to do next.

You hear about the conflicts between the many generations in the workforce all the time: newspapers publish stories about them, people compose essays about the issues, and experts debate and wonder what to do when personalities collide.

That is where Sue Hawkes, CEO of Say YESS!, hopes that a little bit of communication might help. She believes that the generations can learn to work side by side. Hawkes also believes people can rise above the differences they have from the age when they were born.

“It starts with dropping the stereotypes,” says Hawkes. “Belief in generational stereotypes limits your ability to harness the best from everyone at the table. A company’s leader can learn how to unlock potential from all generations by engaging everyone around shared values.”

YESS! partners with organizations and leaders committed to translating their training and development investment into high-return, sustainable performance. Through this business, Hawkes has made her career catalyzing healthy teams, effective communication, discipline and powerful leadership.

Hawkes is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, Certified EOS Implementer, Certified Business Coach, WPO Chapter Chair, and globally recognized, award-winning seminar leader. Chasing Perfection: Shatter the Illusion, Minimize Self-Doubt & Maximize Success is her fourth book.

Q: Millennials and (sometimes) baby boomers—even the Greatest Generation—get bad reps for their workplace behavior. Can they work together?
A: Yes, I believe different generations can work effectively together, and it all starts with communication. How we outwardly demonstrate our preferences and work habits may look differently, but at the core, we want to work well together. I believe there is a tremendous opportunity for maximized results if managed from a place of shared values and effective communication. Too often, I believe we get bogged down by the way we’ve characterized others—in this case, entire generations. As a result, the differences become all we see. If instead, we begin from the common ground we share, while also acknowledging and appreciating the differences, we will then begin to gracefully communicate through the tough stuff and fully realize the value we all bring to the table.

Q: What can they learn from one another?
A: Each generation brings something different to the workplace. Millennials have grown up with technology and use it to work more efficiently and effectively. Gen X brings independence and leadership to the workforce, and baby boomers have vast experience that cannot be underestimated, especially when it comes to being a professional. Each generation can share these best practices to educate the others.

Q: How do you suggest companies work to make these generational differences into assets?
A: Companies can begin by encouraging and modeling effective communication within their teams. As different generations communicate effectively with each other, they will uncover what unique abilities every person within any generation can bring. Millennials will be more respected for their effective use of technology and efficiency, while older generations can use their experience in the business world to help mentor younger generations on best practices and what is appropriate in the workplace. Begin by communicating the greater shared goal at hand, recognize the assets each person and generation brings, and encourage everyone to collaborate based upon this. It’s important to recognize the value we all bring to work.

Karen Dybis

Karen is an editor and writer for Corp! Magazine. She graduated from the University of Michigan and has worked at The Mackinac Island Town Crier, The Kalamazoo Gazette, The (Adrian) Daily Telegram and The Oakland Press. Karen was a Detroit News business writer with stints in retail, workplace issues and personal finance. Dybis also was a blogger on Time magazine's "Assignment: Detroit" project. She is author of four Michigan history books, including "Secret Detroit" and "The Witch of Delray."