The Psychology of Managing Across Multiple Generations in the Workplace: The Sandwich Method
At home I have a rambunctious five year old son. Until recently, I had a stubborn talkative, storytelling mom. I bought a house for both him to run around like a mad man and for my mother to have her own space. It’s what I refer to as a sandwich situation. I am of the age where one may have to tend to both a child and a parent, while managing a team of staff in the workplace. At times, I readily admit it feels like I am managing a team of children and parents at work as well.
Managing both Millennials and Baby Boomers simultaneously is an exercise in both developing a strong core of patience as well as an ever-ready arsenal of humor. I could joke that I have learned the art of the selfie from Millennials and the art of being a curmudgeon from baby boomers but it would be oversimplifying things a bit. Although, I do believe I have learned those skills sets from those said group members. There are inevitably differences in how Millennials and Baby Boomers approach the work place. While Millennials claim to love team projects (until inevitably someone doesn’t pull their weight), Baby Boomers tend to like solo projects (until they get stuck). While Millennials need feedback in the guise of the sandwich method (the more critical feedback sandwiched in between two pieces of praise), Baby Boomers want to cut to the chase in terms of feedback. Although, don’t get me wrong. No one, regardless of generation, really likes feedback. Millennials tend to like a later start to the workday so that they can more easily go to after-hours drinks with colleagues; while Baby Boomers arrive earlier so they can go home to their family earlier. Speaking of which, Millennials tend to want the workplace to be a “family” while Baby Boomers have already experienced that. Different goals, different motivations, and different approaches span the multi-generation workplace.
Let me, however, be clear in what both of those generations want. They both want respect. Millennials want respect as human beings (who doesn’t really) and respect for their emotions and feelings. Baby Boomers want respect for their experience (again, who doesn’t really). Millennials want to be free to express themselves emotionally. If that means throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of a team meeting, so be it. Baby Boomers want to be free to express their hard-earned knowledge. If that means loudly and vocally interjecting their opinions in a team meeting, so be it. Both generations want to be validated for who they are at that moment in time.
The Generation X employee, who oftentimes is the manager, is caught in between these other different generations and philosophies. Generation Xers belong to a smaller populated group. There just isn’t as many of us as there are others. This statistic places Gen Xers in a unique position. When I first entered my current workplace, I was only one of three Generation Xers. Everyone else was either older or younger. I kept wondering where my people were. My parents’ generation just didn’t breed as readily as the others. I looked around and took note of the situation and came up with a plan. I did what I, and other Gen Xers tend to do, I developed my own systems, my own vision and ran with it. Some have even noted I created my own empire in the workplace and in my field.
Interestingly, I was more readily able to bring the Millennials into my empire, mentoring them along the way. Millennials, from my workplace perspective, like being mentored. I love imparting my wisdom, typical of Gen Xers who just don’t tend to have as large a cohort of their own to share their knowledge with. The Baby Boomers, well, it took a while (several years in fact) to win them over. I couldn’t just come in with my far-out vision and bring them into the fold. I had to prove myself worthy to them. I had to measure up to their long-set standards.
Nowadays, in teams where there are multiple generations represented, there are three things to bring us all together: tales from the road, a good Kim Kardashian or pop cultural reference, and cocktails. There truly is nothing like breaking bread and sharing laughs to bring a diverse group together.
Here are some other thoughts on Generation X, Y, Z
5. A Mom’s Blog