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Multigenerational Teams in your work environment?

Recently, I have hosted an SAP Community call on the topic “Multigenerational Teams”. It was a detailed description of the different generations we are facing these times at work. The following generations have been mentioned and described in detail:

Traditionalists: born 1928 – 1945

Baby Boomers: born 1947 – 1964

Gen X: born 1965 – 1980

Gen Y/Millennials: born 1981 – 1996

Gen Z: born 1999 – present


Each generation has some special characteristics, e.g. a big incident that influenced their behavior. In my generation “Gen X” it was the fall of the Berlin Wall whereas there is one characteristic of the youngest generation being “optimistic” because they haven’t really been defined by any extreme event yet. Thanks god.

screenshot from presentation/youtube recording

Interesting are also the representations of the single generations in the workforce:

  • -traditionalists represent 3 %
  • -baby boomers represent 34 % (41 million people)
  • -Gen X represent 29 % (53 million people)
  • -Millennials represent 38 % (56 million people)
  • -Gen Z represent 1 %

as well as some very good advices regarding recruiting and forming your own team.

screenshot from presentation/youtube recording

This presentation really helped me to understand the attitude of all the different people I met during my working life. It helped me also to understand individual views “on the world” and to see the different generations at work more beneficial rather than as a disadvantage. I also hope having the ability to keep this in mind for my future conversations. Gladly, I am always able to grab the recording of this call… sounds interesting to you, too? Tune in!

And … what did you experience? Have you ever thought about that the behavior of your colleague, manager, customer is resulting from a typical generational characteristic? I would love to read your thoughts, ideas and lessons learned!

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22 Comments

  • May 13 at 09:04 AM

    Interesting subject, thanks Svea. I thought about it a bit, and wanted to add what occurred to me as an additional context that might describe certain generational behaviours, based upon what I've noticed over the last few years.

    As well as being influenced by "big incidents", I think schooling is a factor too. As someone whose major school life was in the 1970s, I notice the contrast in what I'm going to call "respect for authority" (regardless of how appropriate that authority might have been) and observe that generation Y and Z folks have a different attitude towards authority than I and my fellow generation X members have.

    I went to an all boys school where discipline was strict and strongly enforced, and the behaviours that were drummed into me are more noticeable by their absence in what I observe in others today.

    I'm deliberately avoiding any judgement here, of course; I just wanted to suggest that schooling is also a significant factor in explaining observed behaviour.

    • May 13 at 09:38 AM

      Interesting thoughts... I think I agree that schooling is a factor. That those "girls" and "boys" schools (probably) do not exist anymore could really have an impact on behaviour as well.

      • May 15 at 04:03 PM

        Svea, I agree that schooling is a major factor and that in the US (at least) there is a major difference in attitude between public- and private-school graduates. (This is a generalization of course, but I agree with DJ Adams that the observed behavior seems to support this conclusion.)

        Gender-based schools in the US are almost without exception private schools and the number of those schools is declining for a variety of reasons: tuition rates are rising and household incomes are declining; the US birthrate has been declining and so the number of children per family has declined; some parents don't want to be tagged as "snobs" for sending their children to any type of private school and some think it is better to send their children to public schools so they can experience a student body with a wide range of backgrounds. Finally, simple demographics indicates that a gender-based school would either be a boarding school or a day school located in a large city, either of which would lead to small numbers of those schools.

        Full disclosure: I am a graduate of an all-male religious high school.

        • May 15 at 07:16 PM

          Thanks, Lloyd, I wasn't aware that there are still gender separated schools in the US, even when they are private ones. I should better google that but I would assume in Germany there aren't any...

  • May 14 at 06:25 PM

    My small comment is to remember each person is different and doesn't fit into a nice neat box.

    My niece and son are a year apart. Their beliefs, values, and way of working is vastly different. Now don't get me wrong - they are working towards degrees in different fields. My sister and I are vastly different. Two years apart and best friends yes. Agreement with each other not very often. Again we are in very different jobs.

    So perhaps just not a gender difference, but a type of job difference. What are you focused on the most what about that person next to you? Yes, we do already know to put together cross-functional teams.

    Cross-generations... just doesn't seem as important to me. But you have me thinking. I don't believe I've ever worked with a cross-generation team. Currently I work for a small company so it is unlikely that I would be on a cross-generation team.

    • May 15 at 07:09 PM

      Absolutely, Michelle. This is not "the one and only truth" but maybe an interesting point of view to consider when you work in a cross-generation team. Like I in SAP do :-)

    • May 30 at 08:35 PM

      My kid is in 4th grade (10 yo) and I go to his school some time either to volunteer or just to have lunch with him and his friends. You'd think these kids are same age and live in an average middle class neighborhood, so should have a lot in common. But every kid is so different!

      I guess as we grow up the whole generation can be affected by the major events. Like for Svea Becker it was Berlin wall for my generation it was the collapse of the whole system and country we lived in. It's likely that sooner or later similar event will occur for the new generation(s) as well. But other than that yes - everyone is a snowflake, not just annoying Millennials.

  • May 15 at 02:40 PM

    So those born in 1946, 1997 and 1998 belong to no group? - sorry. just my quality control side rebelling there!! :-)

    I would add that some major factors in school at young ages heavily influence some of these generations, at least in the US from my perspective.:

    Baby boomers: Emergency drills in school for nuclear attacks. You tend to remember being taught at a young age to hide under your desk in a ball and avoid windows because of a communist nuclear attack.

    I believe the new GEN-Z is affected already by a similar force in-play in schools. Now instead of nuclear attack drills, children, even very young children, are subjected to "Active shooter" drills and school lockdown drills. How does that not affect that generation of children? I'm just not quite sure how yet. But I think it might be reflected in a certain melancholy they have in that "nothing really matters because I'll probably be killed before I do anything significant".

    Add to that all the doomsday scenarios of rising seas, global climate change, meteors crashing into earth, rogue nations (and non-rogue nations!), with the ability to end mankind with nuclear weapons. Don't forget plagues and zombies apocalypses. Also figure in the sensationalization of news events around the world and the amount of bad news these kids get exposed to in an almost real time basis.

    Growing up I'd never hear about a war in Africa, an attack on a school in Afghanistan, a plane crash in Russia, a tsunami in Thailand, a kidnapping in Brazil, etc etc... I'd only see what Walter Cronkrite talked about on the evening news as I walked through the living room on my way out to play. Even the Gen-x didn't get exposed to all this instant information until their college years.

    Today, middle schoolers and secondary students are bombarded by these headlines almost instantly all day long. Even some elementary children. I think the Doomsday generation might be a better name for the Gen Z generation. No wonder it seems that many of the Gen Z either don't care if they succeed, or seem to be cutthroat to succeed to "get theirs' while they can. Working for the greater good doesn't seem to be the norm. Just generalizing here, I have met some amazing young GEN-Z people in my current work.

    Craig


    • May 15 at 07:14 PM

      Wow, Doomsday is a tough thought. I hope the latest generation will not think like that. But true, there are also some strange things going on in the world... as I am more a positive person I will wipe away this sorrowful thoughts and will keep on going with "think positive" ;-)
      But thanks very much for sharing your thoughts on this!

      • May 15 at 09:01 PM

        You're positive.. :-) you're of a different generation.

        I do worry about our children. And I hope I am wrong about my generalization about this newest generation.

        And I wonder.. are these strange things truly new? Or 10-15 years ago did we just not hear about everyone of them from around the world instantly? I do think this glut of news, headlines, and tweets can adversely affect people. More informed does not necessarily equate to happier. Especially if you are getting that info at an impressionable age. I so wish our kids could just be kids.

        Craig

        • May 16 at 04:17 PM

          In my opinion, Craig, these events have always been occurring but no one heard about them. Today's national television news is now covering what small town newspapers used to: cat stuck in tree, Roomba trapped in bathroom, Florida man (fill in the blanks).......

          The proliferation of media and the need to fill 24 hour a day television news channels with "content" is one reason that we wind up with things like the hours of live television coverage of OJ Simpson driving down an LA freeway or the Colorado balloon hoax. Even the sports news channels are falling over themselves to produce tear-jerking "human-interest stories" about athletes and fans.

          And when something actually important happens, they go over the top because it is the first "real" news they have reported on in days (sometimes weeks) and they have to "make their mark" to encourage their advertisers to keep funding them.

          • May 16 at 08:23 PM

            Do you think though that this bombardment of "sensationalized" news will affect our teens? Isn't it hard to be positive if you grow up with 24 hr. news showing the extremes of terrible things going on around the world? Of movies that always involve terrible destruction, plagues, meteors, zombies. Of science stories predicating the worse? Now we teach our kids about stranger abductions, active shooters and good vs. bad touching, (and don't get me wrong, that isn't necessarily bad).

            It'll be interesting to see how this new generation works in teams in business as their presence grows in the work force. Right now they are only 1% so not much to go on yet.

            Craig

            • May 31 at 11:14 AM

              My son was effected by all of the above.

              Then there is the pressure they put on themselves. When he was in 8th grade he took Algebra 2. He can't understand why people want to take it out of the curriculum.

              So the other things they are getting are a different set of skills that they learn in school. Again not a bad thing.

              Why do I say he was effected by everything? The crazy person he is, he wants to change some of it. So instead of engineering - which he always did want to do. He is graduating with a political type degree. So I have to agree what was going on in the world did impact him. It's world politics that are his specialty. And yes, I do know they change their minds a lot. That's good too.

              He did have gunman drill. He also had the fire and tornado drill. Which I might add they need to change a little. Yes for tornado it is still books over your head.

  • May 16 at 02:58 PM

    It's an interesting question. I'm a late boomer. Many of the people I work with are fresh out of college and are younger than my daughters. Their motivations are different from my girls' and it can be a challenge connecting with them.

    But my daughters weren't raised as stereotypical millenials either. I started doing the single parent thing when they were 2 and 5, and I taught them:

    - To take responsibility for the consequences of their actions and failing to act is an action.

    - Life's not fair - deal with it.

    - Wants are generally not needs.

    - The only way to get ahead is to bust your butt working for it.

    - Work hard, but play hard too.

    - TANSTAAFL - there ain't no such thing as a free lunch!

    So, I have a hard time dealing with people who expect to have things handed to them because they were taught that everyone gets a medal for participating - whether you worked for it or not. I have to be careful, though. I'm an advisor for two junior consultants and I want them to be successful, so finding the balancing point of being encouraging while also making sure that they are doing the work they need to do to get there. It's not always easy, but it is certainly rewarding.

    • May 27 at 08:37 AM

      In general I think there are of course still individuals and the pattern will not work. Especially because of the impact of parents. I like what you taught your children, Dell Stinnett-Christy. There are so many good advice for our children but I would rather add one thing because it just came into my mind:

      Believe in yourself!

    • May 31 at 11:17 AM

      Totally agree. That's why i think stereotypical millenials are not normal to me either. I guess it's the environment they were raised in. Of course, to me it's person to person that I look at. However, I can see in a large team when you don't personally know the person - generalizing is not a bad thing.

    • Jun 03 at 03:09 PM

      Say what you want about Louis CK but I absolutely love this fragment from his show where he has "it's not fair" argument with his daughter. My kid seems to be pretty chill about it but there is a girl in our neighborhood who screams "not fair" at any opportunity. It's super annoying.

  • May 30 at 08:43 PM

    We don't have a lot of generation diversity where I work (about 90% GenXers, I think) but I'm enjoying immensely our cultural diversity. Learning about experiences of people from other countries is about the best thing about working in the US. I think we're at that stage when we tend to reminisce a lot ("back in my days..." :) ), so almost every day we have the conversations like "did you have that growing up?"

    I'm wondering if Gen Z will have the same experience 20-30 years later or will it be more like "yeah, I know, I also used Facebook / Reddit, etc". :) It's a different world for sure.

    Thank you for the post!

    • May 31 at 11:24 AM

      Yes, I'm a GenX myself. However, when I first started my career I had stars in my eyes. I thought everyone would be ready to move forward to that next new thing. Why wouldn't they? It would make their job easier. So maybe it's like that for those are just starting that are different.

      The stars have dimmed a little. But I have the SAP Community to chat with some of the "new to me" technology. AND I have a great job now. They are shutting down the ideas I have. Woohoo!

      So maybe some of the generation gap is understating and really listening to that person with stars in their eyes. They probably have amazing new ideas. And OK - some of them are horrible.

      I love Facebook. Twitter - I just don't make the time. :)

  • Jun 07 at 03:03 PM

    Svea, some months ago I read a blog aligned with this topic, and one part that express my personal vision about this Multigenerational Teams I reproduce below.

    " ...

    how each generation is influenced by events that take place in their youth, establishing an “unconscious bias” that affects how they experience the world. Tammy has written extensively on the topic of multiple generations in the workplace and proceeded to describe how these worldviews often lead to conflicts in teams made up of members from different generations. She drew on some of her work to help us understand those prevailing attitudes. A brief description of these generations is:

    Traditionalists make up today’s senior workforce and have a strong sense of the importance of financial recognition, security, and hierarchy. Although their numbers are decreasing as they retire, many of their assumptions are deeply embedded in the fabric of how organizations work; many corporations remain largely the product of their policies.

    Baby Boomers Most Boomers jumped into the workforce with passion and commitment. They tend to value individual achievement and individual recognition

    Gen X’ers are often more concerned with a work-life balance in which they “work to live” instead of “live to work.” Free time is highly valued, probably more so than money for many.

    Generation Ys/Millennials Fearless and blunt, they offer their opinions freely, as they don’t view corporate hierarchy and “proper” business protocol as rigidly as older generations and have an expectation that their point of view is valid and will be heard. This is the first generation of unconsciously competent users of digital technology. "

    Source: https://www.harvardbusiness.org/multi-generational-teams-how-can-we-all-work-together/

    I think that this difference between the generations is directly drive by the Maslow´s pyramid theory. The new generations has less problems and challenges to scale the base of pyramid requirements, and when the hierarchy of needs is higher in this pyramid, the expectations, dedication, patience are lower.

    When less people feel hungry or cold, the value for the basics is lower... and, thanks for all of old generations that is bring an easier life for the people coming.

    Now the question for understand the future behavior in work environment is a sociologist and psychologist challenge.

    FM

    • Jun 11 at 08:27 AM

      Thanks for sharing this article, Fausto. Great additional read in regards to this topic.

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