Today's workforce is made up of five unique generations; Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y (Millennial) and Generation Z. According to the Department of Labor, Millennial will be the largest generation in the workforce by 2020. Thousands of Baby Boomers are retiring every day. Each generation has their preferred way of communicating, their own values, and their own rules for what is appropriate behavior at work. Traditionalists and Baby Boomers are very comfortable with chain of command thinking at work, Millennial not so much. Last week during a management training program, a manager shared with me that one of his employees texted him to ask for a raise. Can you even imagine sending a text to your boss to ask for a raise? That sounded so strange to me, but I am a Baby Boomer, not a Millennial. Baby Boomers prefer face to face communication. I would have walked into to my bosses office and asked for a raise. Millennials prefer electronic communication.
In addition to having multiple generations in the workforce, today's workforce is wildly diverse when it comes to culture, religion, upbringing, tradition and behaviors. I recently met the CEO of a company who was born in Germany and working in the United States. He shared with me that a new hire started to pray at his desk in the middle of the afternoon and the team leader wasn't sure how to handle the disruption. There can be an accommodation made for praying at work, praying in a private space works better than praying in an open work area.
Roger Axtell has written a few books that are very helpful to new managers, The Do's and Taboos of Using English Around the World and The Do's and Taboos of Body Language Around the World. Both books are full of valuable advice about culture and language.
There are so many advantages of having a diverse workforce. Diversity brings about numerous ideas and numerous solutions to different problems. The key to creating a productive work environment is mutual respect and acceptance. Traditionalists and Baby Boomers have so much knowledge and history to share. Generation X employees are approaching middle age and have tons of experience. Millennials and Generation Z know so much more about technology than their older counterparts and can access information quickly. There is no one right way to approach a problem, just different ways.
It does help to keep in mind who you are interacting with and what style they prefer. Personally, a text message saying Happy Mother's Day does not excite me at all!