Monday, July 09, 2007

Generational Differences

Carol Hymowitz has a good article in today's Wall Street Journal entitled, "Managers Find Ways To Get Generations To Close Culture Gaps." Hymowitz is correct when she argues that managers must find ways to tailor their approach to meet the needs of different generations of employees. I find the point about learning and development particularly interesting.

As a professor, I can see these generational learning differences very clearly. Young people gather and process information, develop new skills, and discover new things in very different ways than many people from prior generations. My younger students, for instance, love studying for exams by listening to and reviewing my weekly podcasts, which discuss key points from the case studies that we examined. They also tend to embrace active learning, i.e. classroom experiences in which they are engaged participants, as opposed to passive listeners to faculty lectures. Just as orofessors must adapt to this newer generation's distinct learning style inside and outside the classroom, so too must managers find ways to tailor the way that they monitor, motivate, and train employees of various generations.

The challenge, however, becomes one of fairness. While I believe tailoring approaches for different employees makes some sense, I worry that managers may end up creating perceptions of inequity. People often don't like to feel as though their peers are not playing by the same rules. Thus, as managers try to adapt their approaches to meet the needs of a multigenerational staff, they must be particularly careful that employees do not begin to perceive that they are being treated unfairly in comparison to peers of another generation.