Working Intergenerationally – Coaching across the ages

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Whether you’re looking to change career, enhance your coaching skills, manage people better or lead like a true professional, the general themes behind inter-generational coaching remain the same. It can be a real challenge to keep people of different generations on board, equally interested and on the same page. Here’s some insight into getting it right for everyone, whatever their age.

The theory of generations

Baby-boomers. Digital natives. Generation X. Generation Y. Millennials. So many labels! So many ways of categorising people, of classifying the traits exhibited by groups, of stereotyping. As coaches we need to understand the mindset and cultural influences of each generation.

The theory of generations suggests people are significantly influenced by notable events from their youth. These shared experiences give rise to a feeling of collegiality and solidarity. This in turn creates a distinctive cohort of people who share a set of common characteristics, in other words a generation.

Are we defined by our cohort’s characteristics? Are we so deeply socialised by our culture that we function as a group, like a murmuration of starlings or a shoal of fish? Do our attitudes, life-choices, behaviours, and ways of relating to employers and potential employers embody unhelpful, unthinking assumptions and biases instilled by merely living through an event, through certain decades? Could the Korean War, Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy’s assassination, 9-11, the death of Diana or the first ever Harry Potter book really affect an entire generation that profoundly? It’s all open for discussion. Each generation carries their own particular history and cultural assumptions. If you have little awareness of your own deeply held assumptions or how others tend to filter their experience and world, conversations can easily go awry and end up inadvertently highly charged.

Image by Mark Riechers

Gen Z, iGen, or Centennials are those born from 1996 and later – This cohort has had access to the internet since their early years, are comfortable with the technology and used to interacting on social media. Wikipedia gives you the full picture

5 Tips for working with people in these generations

  1. Independent, creative and entrepreneurial, this generation puts less emphasis on the traditional way of doing things. They might, for example, go to Uni later in life, start up micro-businesses in their teens, or get their Degree online
  2. This generation is known for blending work and life, not so wedded to the 9-5 culture as previous generations
  3. Digital life is in their DNA – they have always had the internet
  4. They remarkably social media-savvy
  5. They particularly value job stability in an uncertain economic landscape

Millennials or Gen Y, those born between 1977 and 1995 – A piece of research in 2012 revealed Millennials as “more civically and politically disengaged, more focused on materialistic values, and less concerned about helping the larger community than were GenX”. Read more about the generation here

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5 Tips for working with people in these generations

  1. Millennials value structure to their day and their work
  2. They have an unusually positive self-image and a powerful can-do attitude
  3. They particularly value coaching and teaching
  4. Millennials enjoy working in groups and teams, and prioritise teamwork
  5. They’re comfortable with change – in fact they love it

Generation X, born between 1965 and 1976 – These people don’t anticipate retiring when their parents did. They appreciate a flexible work environment, own their own homes and make a high proportion of their purchases online. Find out more about Gen X here

5 Tips for working with people in these generations

  1. This generation was brought up to be independent. They played outdoors with their friends, totally unsupervised, for their entire childhood, and they value independence in others
  2. As results focused entrepreneurial thinkers, they don’t always realise someone younger might want more detailed explanations than they’d need themselves
  3. They don’t give out praise automatically. You have to actually earn it
  4. Because they grew up questioning everything, don’t expect them to just accept the status quo or agree to new ideas without exploration
  5. Gen X members really don’t appreciate being micro-managed

Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964 – This generation tuned in, dropped out, got high, swung their way through the Sixties and became hippies in the Seventies. They’re also the first to be born into the welfare state. Find out more about them here

5 Tips for working with people in these generations

  1. This generation values teamwork highly
  2. It’s dangerous to underestimate their tech savvy – they’re often surprisingly knowledgeable about the digital world. Not all of them are digital fluent but they have all been through many adaptive changes and major new world trends in their life span and have experienced rapid developments
  3. Boomers work very hard but they’re less likely than other generations to work late every night or pull an all-nighter. They’re more sensible than that. They respond best to a regular 9-5
  4. While they don’t mind working for someone younger, they very much dislike being underestimated and under-valued
  5. They’re often just as social media savvy as younger generations – think Steve Jobs and Bill Gates – but they don’t always place as much cultural importance on it and enjoy a variety of communication styles

Traditionalists or Silent Generation, born in 1945 and earlier – These people spent their lives fully expecting to be seen but not heard. They have a strong work ethic, are loyal, respect their bosses and see work as a privilege. You can find out the details here

5 Tips for working with people in these generations

  1. Waste not, want not. Make do and mend. Quality matters. The Silent Generation values these things
  2. This generation is used to staying quiet, getting their heads down and getting on with it
  3. They’re old as far as actual age goes, but their attitude is often much younger – many feel younger than their age
  4. They love ‘grandtravel’, taking their grandkids travelling and on holiday and leaving the parents behind
  5. They don’t spend money profligately

As you can see, a lot of this is generalisation. There are multiple ways to capture the the truth, and just as many ways to miss vital points, to strain the gnat but end up swallowing the camel. So how do you use the generational model to your clients’ advantage and pick your way effectively through the intergenerational minefield?

Looking beyond generations labels to deeper implications

Under what circumstances do the generations work well together? Where do the tensions play out? How does intergenerational coaching work for older coaches with younger clients and visa versa? As you know, in coaching we need to move beyond our own realities to explore and appreciate other frames, other perspectives.

A common sense caveat

While making generalisations is useful, it’s also risky. It’s important to remember that not everyone in a group will act like everyone else. It’s about broad patterns, not certainties. There’s always a great deal of variety in each group, often as much as you find between groups. But because different generations enter the workforce at about the same time, they have shared experiences which shape their working style and perceptions of the working world. Bear that in mind and you’ll find the right level.

If you would like to more effective in coaching intergenerationally, do contact us. We would be delighted to hear from you