Mixing Four Generations in the Workplace

Review in Training Media Review by Bill Ellet,
editor and owner of Training Media Review
and a writing consultant at Harvard Business School.

I’m told Mixing Four Generations in the Workplace is a best seller. I can see why.

This video program does a lot more than provide four or five general points on coping with a generational mix. Cam Marston, the presenter and a consultant on the topic, defines the four generations found in the workplace–Matures, Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials.

He defines them through essential characteristics that are easy to remember. Marston is careful not to pile on the adjectives; his selectivity helps make the definitions clearer. Boomers, he says, equate success with time spent on the job. They are both competitive and optimistic. Generation X wants you to prove what you say. Their big concern is credibility–your credibility.

Marston’s timing is great. Due to longevity and economic necessity, people are working longer and aren’t ceding their places in the workforce as they once did. Reinforcing this trend, social dynamics seem to change more rapidly than they did, altering how adults raise their children. The result is sharp differences between successive generations.

Organizations now house a mélange of age groups, and managers and HR people need some answers about how these different groups can be led and how they can be helped to work together. A wide span of employee ages is probably going to remain the norm in the workplace for a long time to come.

Whoever decided to divide the program into two fairly short parts was smart. The first program gives the generational definitions, and the second tells you what you can do with them. If the producer had tried to cram all of this content into one 18- or 20-minute show, the video would have been either very superficial or far too dense, like a bad college lecture.

Marston thinks people from Generation X should be treated in a way that’s compatible with their skepticism and their belief that nothing endures–examples being their jobs and the companies they work for. Here is some practical advice from Marston on Gen X:

  • Talk short term to them, ideally six months. They just do not that thinking in a longer term makes sense.
  • Be sure to give them backup plans because their cynicism tells them things never go as planned.
  • And always be sure to tell them why you want them to do something.

Marston gives a simple narrative of the working generations that makes as much sense as any sweeping generalizations about large groups of people do. In a Q&A feature on the DVD, he admits that people don’t always fit into their generational paradigms.

Unlike many business theorists, he gives fine-grained advice that is meant to be applied. You can test it by trying out some of his recommendations and seeing for yourself if they work. And it won’t take years or a complete business cycle to get the results. You’ll observe outcomes quickly.

One point not brought up is the generation of the person who utilizes the information this program teaches. I’m a boomer and my idea of a short burst of information recommended for distracted Millennials could be different from a Millennial’s. This may be a second order concern, but it seems important to me. Guidance is affected by who implements it.

Mixing Four Generations in the Workplace is a utilitarian production. The producers appear to believe that visual appeal and variety are just costly extras for training programs. Marston is shot against an uninteresting background talking to someone–we never see them or find out who they are. The graphics are just plain ugly.

Fortunately, Marston is a decent presenter. He’s a bit rushed but knows his stuff, doesn’t belabor points, and has a nice sense of humor. He’s someone you can listen to comfortably.

The teaching materials–a Facilitator’s Guide, Participant Guide, and PowerPoint presentation–support a two- or four-hour class and come as PDF documents on a second DVD. They provide interesting additional ideas that give the video content more depth.

Recommendation

Cam Marston takes on the important topic of a generationally complex workforce and gives you ideas to try out. He is certainly worth listening to. I’m giving the high rating because of the potential usefulness of Marston’s ideas, not the production quality of the program.

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