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Getting full attention is like asking a frog to fly

Have you tried to have a face-to-face conversation with a multi-tasker who is texting and twittering while wearing an ear bud?

Annoying, isn’t it?

Get used to it.

For the first time in our nation’s history there are “four generations” in the workplace, says consultant Alicia Wagner. That creates a minefield of miscommunication.

So, is that young multi-tasker being disrespectful when their attention is split three ways?

Maybe, maybe not, says Wagner, a business coach and executive director of Women’s Entrepreneurial Network.

Modern society, abetted by lightening-fast advancement in technology, has created these mulit-taskers. Trying to change them is futile.

“It’s like asking a frog to fly,” Wagner says.

If there’s no changing them, then those of us in leadership positions in the workplace need to understand the different ways four generations communicate as well as the different ways they approach their job responsibilities. This is imperative to maintain competitiveness and fashion a succession plan for the future.

Let’s look at the challenges of our changing workplace following the Big Recession. Keep in mind, Wagner says, that these generation break downs are more about style than the traditional definition of a generation.

If you thought the Baby Boomers were going to ride off soon into the sunset of retirement, think again. Unlike their fathers, many Boomers do not have defined pension plans. They are relying on cashing in on the increased value of their homes and their 401-k investments. However, the decline in home values and the 2007 Wall Street crash will mean that the Baby Boomer Generation (1946-1964) will be forced to stay in the workplace longer. So too will the Silent Generation (1930-1945). Both will need to better their communication skills and learn how to motivate Generation X (1965-76) and Generation Y (1977-1990) as well as the Millennials (1991-2005) who are about to enter the workforce.

While the Baby Boomer and Silent Generations prefer face-to-face communication, Generations X and Y prefer texting and e-mail, Wagner says. Failing to recognize and adapt can cause, at best, miscommunication and, at worst, no communication.

While learning how to use modern technology can help Boomers bridge the generation gap, it is more important to make sure expectations are clearly communicated and understood and that people are held accountable. If you think communication between four generations can be difficult, consider the challenge managers face providing the right motivation to entice peak performance.  One bonus system does not fit all anymore.

Generally speaking, Boomers, for example, are ambitious and materialistic, Wagner says. They can be motivated by money. The same can’t be said for Generation X. This was the first latch-key generation. They also experienced the highest divorce rate and the pain of broken families. Wagner says they are more likely to say, “We don’t care about the money. We want time for vacations and flexibility in our schedules. We’re incentivized by time and quality interaction with our kids.”

Generation Y could just as well be called Generation “Why,” Wagner says. They see their peers creating applications for cell phones and social media that make them instant millionaires. “They feel like something is wrong because they didn’t help design it. You need to get them involved in designing processes and procedures,” she says.

Most of all they need to feel you are hearing what they have to say.

Designing personal incentive programs, while maintaining fairness, becomes the challenge of the future, Wagner says.

Her advice to Baby Boomers, the generation holding a large percentage of the business leadership positions in America?

“We have to get our egos out of the way,” she says. “Baby Boomers are so competitive and they want to be in control, so they don’t ask for help. They are afraid to be perceived as weak. Those who ask for help are going to be successful.” 

Wagner, a member of Generation Y but who says she exhibits more characteristics of Generation X, spent 10 years at a Fortune 500 Company before becoming disillusion with the pace of her advancement. She blamed gender discrimination until she left the corporate grind. She then came to the conclusion she was a victim of generational discrimination.

Her experiences motivated her to become a certified coach through The Coaches Training Institute located in the San Francisco area. She counsels businesses and organizations on a number of subjects including how to improve communication between the generations. She recently gave a presentation on these differences to the Eastern Maumee Bay Chamber of Commerce.

Wagner’s advice applies to more than the workplace. “We forget sometimes that the same things that make our companies successful can make our families successful.” That is--communication, clear expectations and holding people accountable.


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