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Working Across Generations

Gen X, Millenials and Gen Z together.

March 19, 2019
 
 

When we started our blog here at UVenus, we were really focused on the experience of being the next generation of female managers, Gen X women working among Baby Boomers and a few Traditionalists.  As the years have gone by, a new group, the Millennials have joined us in the workforce (and even a handful of Generation Z student workers).

Managing across these generations and working side by side, each with different outlooks, has made it more of a challenge to keep everyone engaged, motivated and challenged.

How do we integrate?  How do we adapt? What challenges have you encountered in your office working across generations?


Janni Aragon, University of Victoria, BC, Canada:

Working across generations provides consistent learning on the job. The best tactics that I learned was honing listening and communication skills with my students, staff, peers, and the administrators who I have reported to. I found that I kept notes of most of my meetings in journals. I had different journals for meetings with Deans, my supervisor, my staff, and for projects. I also color coded personnel issues.

I met monthly with my assigned Human Resources Consultant for management coaching and to assist with any personnel issues. Likewise, my union was helpful to me with any concerns I had with my work situation. Thus, I am suggesting that higher education middle managers seek help and keep notes. I had the opportunity to participate in different professional development opportunities and that provided me on the job skills and I met others and established a good peer group for support.

When thinking of the different generations at the workplace, I like to think that people need different amount of sunlight, water, supplements, and fertilizer. And, I found that my millennial staff need more sunlight--more of my attention. There was also a want to know what was going on at work in terms of what  did and what was coming down the pipeline from campus. Overall, my best advice is that a good manager needs to listen and ask good questions.

Lee Skallerup Bessette, Georgetown University, USA

Being in the classroom, teaching broadly about “the digital” has taught me more about “kids these days” and how to work best with people across generational divides, especially when I moved to a more collaborative classroom setting where I was one member of the community of learners instead of the all-knowing professor. Patience, empathy, and active listening - these things take time, effort, but ultimately are the best ways to create an environment where everyone can thrive.

I’m still in a relatively new position, where I am on a team of more than 30 people across various projects and areas of expertise. They not only come with different educational backgrounds, generations, and skillset, but also from around the world; there’s even a fellow Gen-X Montrealer on the team! It’s an entirely new experience for me, with new hierarchies, chains-of-command, and (for lack of a better term) rules of engagement. I’m still learning - I approach every interaction with the expectation that everyone wants a productive collaboration and then I want to work to figure out what my role is in making it happen. I’ve been much more proactive approaching senior members of the organization to get advice about interactions and collaborations.

In a lot of ways, I’m struggling with my own shifting role as a Gen-X moving into more leadership positions and opportunities. I still feel much of the time like I’m still starting my career, rather than being in the middle of it - call it a mixture of imposter syndrome and long-term contingent mindset. I still feel myself relating better to the graduate students and those who are earlier in their careers, those who are largely not Gen-X. Complicating things is what I now know is my ADHD - I process the world much differently.

I’m not sure if any of this advice is helpful. I think we are all trying to do our best and feel like maybe we don’t belong or that we’re getting things wrong. And we are all dealing with circumstances outside of our professional lives (aging parents, kids, crushing student loans, mental health, etc, etc, etc, etc). If anything, having people around for whom these issues are not taboo to discuss openly and publicly will make the workplace more balanced. I hope so.

Yves Salomon-Fernandez, Greenfield Community College, Massachusetts, USA

Working with different generations as colleagues and students provides great opportunities for evolving higher education in an era of rapid technological change, changing patterns of college attendance and changing landscape of higher education. More than ever the unique and overlapping perspectives of generational perspectives. I have worked with few traditionalists, so I will set that group aside for this discussion. We know that Baby Boomers are working longer which, in many ways, is a good thing. In my experience, they provide steady and seasoned leadership that has seen change across multiple decades. They tend to be more deliberative and thoughtful in processing change, which balances millennials who are more change-oriented and move a little faster. For our institutions that are operating in an era of rapid and unparalleled technological and other changes, the balance of urgency with thoughtful deliberation can be very useful. This can help us experiment and take more calculated risks

Being a GenXer, I think we tend to be a little more in the middle. Depending on where on the continuum one falls, we might have one foot in each of the other generations.

Given the changes that higher education is undergoing, we need the perspectives of all of the sectors. We also need to differentiate, step back, and allow the voice of the most appropriate generational representative to supersede others when that is the solution called for by a particular problem. The world is evolving. We are educating iGens and the generation that follows them. As president, I have a 15 year old advisor because I understand that my perspective is decayed when it comes to certain issues. I simply cannot understand them from my own generational lens.

What about you dear readers, what challenges have you encountered in your office working across generations?

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