Four generations and one workplace

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Last week, I had the honor of speaking to a group of undergraduate women studying the sciences (Generation Y), their GSK mentors (Gen X & Boomers), as well as faculty members from the students' schools (Gen X & Boomers).  The event was called the North Carolina GSK Foundation Women in Science Scholars Spring Conference.

I was so impressed by the level of education that was represented by these young women!  I spoke with one student at lunch who was working on a degree in bioscience engineering, and I marveled at the educational opportunities for women today.  As a member of the Mature/Silent Generation (born prior to 1945), I spoke about how women in my era were relegated to three basic career choices:  teacher, nurse, or secretary. The same student talked about how she had spent the last semester in Madrid, Spain, and traveled all over Europe while she was there. The younger generation is not only well traveled but thinks more globally than ever before, something both mentors and advisors can use as a way to better understand one another. 

I spoke to the audience from a practical point of view based upon my life experiences. The topic for my presentation was "Capitalizing on the Multi-Generational Workplace," a subject I have become familiar with in the past six years due to my involvement with an employee networking group that I initiated known as Prime Time Partners (PTP). 

One of the remits of PTP is to promote cross-generational understanding. For the first time in history, there are four generations working together in the US, and I've had the opportunity to research and share information about this phenomena at both internal and external business meetings, including the National Council on Aging Annual Meeting, the Atlanta Regional Commission Summit on Aging Workforce Dynamics, and the NC Association of School Nurses. 

I talk about the unique set of workplace traits each generation brings to the workplace, how outside influences shape each generation, and the impact that each has upon the workplace.  Having been raised with technology, today's Generation Y workers are "Digital Natives" and can provide "reverse mentoring" opportunities for the older generations in learning about the new digital tools that they all use with ease.  The older generations can provide a solid foundation to the younger ones by mentoring and providing insight into work ethics, knowledge of the business world, and connections to company leaders. 

Last week, I urged the participants to take time to talk with one another to help promote understanding and to strengthen teams by capitalizing on the skills of each generation.  All generations have similar values; they just express them differently.  They want the same things at different times and for different reasons.  If you understand these issues, you can make the most of your experiences and skills, and leverage generational differences.