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The New Norm: Generational Differences — Adjusting to a Virtual Work Environment

Updated: Apr 7, 2020


While Part I (Defining the Times) of this mini blog series spoke of the defining characteristics of the five generations in the workplace, this segment will examine how individuals across each generation view one another. Despite the introduction of employee mentoring programs, training seminars on communication and technological awareness, and varying incentive programs by companies, stereotypes exist, threatening group efforts and cohesion.

In today’s 100 percent virtual environment spurred by COVID-19, it is best to address generational, and other stereotypes head-on, at the outset of remote work. Organizations who recognize the generational differences that exist, encourage collegiality and understanding among employees, and strive to improve on working relationships, whether in-person or from afar, will be more successful in going about business as usual.


Traditionalists are recognized for their strong work ethic. Often, this hard-working mindset leads them to believe that employees who are telecommuting and/or outside of the office are not working at all. The reason for this animosity toward telecommuting can be attributed to Traditionalists’ steadfast values and beliefs in an honest day's work.


Baby Boomers, sometimes referred to as workaholics, are considered by many as self-centered. In a remote work environment, they maintain the expectation that, like them, all employees will demonstrate the same hard-working attitude and, as such, will be readily available when needed. This, however, conflicts with how younger generations view work-life balance.


Generation X employees are generally stereotyped as complainers who, though possessing a strong work ethic, frequently look down on the individuals around them. Having witnessed many technological advances throughout their youth, including the introduction of rudimentary, at-home video game consoles like Atari, Gen Xers are less fearful of remote work and less dependent on in-person communication than their predecessors in the workplace. The capabilities of virtual tracking, however, do leave Gen Xers wary that “Big Brother” may be watching their every move when working from home.


Millennials are most frequently stereotyped as entitled and arrogant. A pervasive knowledge of technology and active personality, combined with a desire for a more flexible work environment – with casual dress codes and less office hours – gives them a reputation as high-maintenance when compared to their peers. Though, from an outsider’s standpoint, one would assume Millennials offer a prime example of the appropriate “work-from-home” approach, this generation’s disconnect with its elder counterparts instead produces tension and mistrust.


Generation Z employees are known for having short-term attention spans and being multi-taskers who are extremely technologically savvy. Growing up amid a bevy of social media outlets, constantly focused on innovative ways to garner “Likes,” Gen Z employees look toward their managers for continuous communication and appreciation, which can prove difficult while working from home. This generation expects much in terms of connection with their companies and values work with a purpose. As a manager, it is imperative that Gen Z employees be given a socially responsible and environmentally defined reason why they should work hard to produce organizational results.

Part III (Finding Cohesion in a Virtual Environment) of this series will focus on strategies, methods and techniques for eliminating stereotypes, engaging the five generations remotely and creating cohesion in a virtual work environment.

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