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Are There Really Generational Differences in the Workplace?

graphic for generational differences blog post

We keep reading about soft skill generational differences among Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millenials and whether these real and perceived differences should be accommodated by employers. The truth is that each generation arrives in the workplace strongly influenced by whatever technology drivers are current for them as well as the influence of pop culture.

As a career strategist and former Fortune 500 hiring manager, I personally never bought into the idea of a business or company accommodating a particular generation’s work ethic (“soft skills”, however, are a different animal) over those of other generations. To me, that’s the tail wagging the dog. It contributes to vertical silo social/organization structures rather than horizontal structures.

Instead, what I have found to be more effective for accommodating the workforce generational difference and the bottom line is a combination of several factors, primarily aligning/re-aligning people across generations based on their particular work styles and perspectives.

Deloitte created a system called Business Chemistry that identifies four primary work styles (Drivers, Guardians, Pioneers, and Integrators), and related strategies for accomplishing shared goals. Existing personality tests aren’t tailored to the workplace and rely too much on personal introspection. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and other personality assessments put people in one category or another, but the brain isn’t wired like that and even the Myers-Briggs Foundation cautions against integrating results with hiring decisions. The Business Chemistry process, which is based on neural chemistry, pulls diverse work styles together – regardless of generation. These four primary work styles are found across all generations, not just within one age group.

According to the research, organizations that emphasize cognitive diversity rather than generational or even racial diversity can harvest the catalytic benefits such organizing work styles offer. In it’s search for effective value-driven diversity in the workplace, could neuro-diversity base on cognitive assortment be The Answer?

Want to know if you’re a Driver, Guardian, Pioneer, or Integrator? Email me and I’ll send you the Business Chemistry self-assessment worksheet as found in the Harvard Business Review March/April 2017 edition.

So, what about those soft skills?

Here’s a scary statistic: Only 23% of employers measure quality of hire, a metric that has been shown to be critical to understanding the effectiveness of an organization’s hiring process (source: SHRM Research, 2016). When employers complain about bad hires, it’s sounding more like the echo of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you don’t at least look for soft skills proficiency, well…you get what you pay for.

The higher up one advances in the organization, the greater the need for soft skills execution (see my previous post for more of soft skills). While some assessments can provide a window into a candidate’s soft skills inventory and application, most companies will have to select those soft skills that do the best job reinforcing their particular business process. HR and hiring managers will have to work together to determine which soft skills to look for and assess.

Work environments must establish an atmosphere that provides opportunities for people to succeed with hard and soft skills. While a person’s core personality core can’t be changed, they can learn strategies for engagement and influence to better manage the daily interactions with peers and upper management.

YOUR TURN: what are you strategies and tactics for addressing generational work style differences in the workplace? Are they working, or are you looking for something else? 

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Donn LeVie Jr. is  a former Fortune 500 hiring manager (Phillips Petroleum, Motorola, Intel Corp), award-winning author (Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 – Second Edition and Strategic Career Engagement), keynote speaker/seminar leader, and strategist. Over a 30-year career, he has reviewed thousands of résumés and cover letters, interviewed hundreds of candidates, and hired countless technical, marketing, and communications professionals in the earth and space sciences, software development support, and microprocessor design support. 

Today Donn speaks on career engagement strategies; positioning and influence strategies; and personal breakthrough strategies as well as providing 8-week Elite Small Group Mentoring/Strategist programs. Follow him on Twitter or contact him directly at

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