By Tameka Lowe, M.S. and Kathryn Osterbrock, B.S.
For the first time in history, all four generations are in the workplace at the same time. Organizations will have to shift the work environment to cater to all four generations’ diverse generational backgrounds and learning styles.
For the sake of this article, Traditionalists are individuals born 1933-1945, Baby Boomers 1946-1964, Generation X 1965-1976, and Generation Y 1977-1998. Traditionalists came of age during the Great Depression and the two World Wars. For this generation patriotism, self-sacrifice, and structured roles are how socialization is built. They are loyal to their employers, conservative, have strong work ethics, and feel what is best for the group is more important than what is best for the individual. Additionally, traditionalists are said to embody the institutions knowledge.
Until recently, Baby Boomers were the largest generation in the history of America. They are idealistic and driven, are more concerned with outcome rather than process, and they are extremely competitive micro-managers with a “do what it takes” attitude towards professional growth. Known as the “latchkey” generation, Generation X learned independence and self-reliance at an early age. This generation is more skeptical and less loyal. They believe the most important thing is work/life balance and by the year 2020 they will occupy approximately thirty-percent of the workforce.
Generation Y is the largest generation and possesses the highest level of self-confidence and optimism. Although generation Y is well educated, their communication and problem solving skills are deemed standard. Their over-reliance on e-mail can cause workplace conflict because it does not allow the younger generation to develop personal relationships with their colleagues. This generation is not fully engaged. They have strong aspirations for job growth but they feel they must leave one position for another in order to achieve their potential.
These experiences are the reasons why the generations’ expectations and characteristics are so different in the work environment. By having such diverse traits and styles in the workplace, the organization runs the risk of creating challenges. Therefore, organizations need to be dynamic in their approach when creating a more inclusive work environment. Creating a work environment that understands and manages these challenges will ensure a workforce that is competitive, efficient, and sustainable.
The aging workforce is one of the biggest challenges to overcome in the organization; younger generations are more concerned with fast track progression and the older generations’ concern is getting the job done. However, individuals from all age groups can learn from each other despite their age differences.
Generation Y admires traditionalists for their expertise and body of knowledge of the organization’s system. Generation X places high significance on self-improvement, therefore, they are constantly seeking opportunities to learn in their work environment. The Baby Boomer generation is open to the idea of mentoring the younger generations. Creating a work environment that understands and manages these challenges will ensure a workforce that is sustainable.
Mentoring in the workplace can have many beneficial outcomes for both parties involved. There is convincing evidence that receiving mentoring is related to success in one’s career.
Since all generations are represented in the workplace these days, there are major differences in work ethic and values. From these differences between generations in the workplace, there are formed opinions about each. Generation Y has the benefit of growing up in a technology era and rely heavily on such systems in their work. Traditionalists are known for being hard workers, putting in overtime, and working for the benefit of their companies. With two totally different ends of the spectrum in generations all working together, could we not learn these work ethics and values from one another? Mentors interact with mentees to pass on a professional legacy and act as a role model to help transform their identity.
In order to find out the awareness of mentoring programs in the organization and curiosity of individuals, we created a 21-question online survey. This survey covered areas of how the individual appears to be included in decision-making, what they consider their level of leadership, their opinions on other generations’ work ethic and values, and their experience and interests in mentoring in the workplace. The purpose of this survey was to raise awareness on how popular and needed mentoring programs are, and the benefit to the company and employees. The results will help lead to future research. Participants were given a month timespan to complete the survey. We wanted to be sure to get a random sample that covered all generations by taking advantage of technology to reach out to specific age groups.
Participants were recruited randomly through social networking, colleagues, and by word-of-mouth. Of the individuals who participated in the survey (N= 131), fourteen did not complete the survey in its entirety (response rate 89.3%). Reasons are unknown as to why some questions were skipped. 73% of the respondents were female. 37% of the participants were between the ages of 29-39. 38% were considered Generation Y, 32.8% were Generation X, 24.1% Baby Boomers, and 4.3% Traditionalists. Education levels ranged from high school diploma to PhD.
We focused on the knowledge and attitude of participants towards mentoring programs, the desire to be involved in such a program, and the values and work ethics of different generations. While 5.2% had no knowledge at all about mentoring programs, there was an even number in participants who were very or somewhat knowledgeable in it. Also, the majority of those who had knowledge about this program had a positive attitude towards it.
Participants were asked to elaborate on whether they thought a mentoring program would benefit their department. Seventy-five percent of the responders believed a mentoring program will be beneficial and 6% did not agree. Some of the common responses were: “it’s our duty as the older generation”, “I’ve been mentoring the younger generations”, “our department already has a program like this”, “I think the younger generation is too stubborn to learn”, and “if people are ‘forced’ into it through a program and don’t choose to participate, it would be less effective”.
In terms of the qualities that the participants are looking for in a mentor, listening/communication, patience, and feedback were at the top of the list. Some other qualities include: understanding of weakness, humility, and personal investment. The results of this survey show us that while there are many positive attitudes about having a mentoring program and being a mentor, there are still some negativity, especially towards the younger generations, due to work ethics and values.
Could giving a mentoring relationship a chance change this stereotype of other generations? Each generation has its own beneficial work ethics that can be good and bad depending on the situation. Times are different now and younger generations are advancing with technology while older generations tend to stay with the work ethics they grew up with. However, nobody is wrong in their perceptions. Mentoring could help generations understand one another in terms of ethics or values that they may lack.
Tameka is pursing her doctoral degree in Organizational Psychology from Walden University; she also received her M.S. in I/O Psychology from Walden University. She’s currently seeking opportunities in the field of I/O. Her interests are: Organizational and Survey development, D&I, and Research. [email protected]
Kathryn is pursing her Masters in I/O Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Her specialization is in Organizational Effectiveness and Human Resources. She’s currently employed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center as a Project Coordinator in Project Management. [email protected]