Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

Like it or not, there is some kind of tension between generations in the workplace. Every book about those pesky Gen-Yers claims that they’ll ruin the world.

The authors of Work with Me decided that we all might need a more constructive approach to collaborating across the generations.

"In writing this book," said Magnuson, "we identified levels of generational conflict: flashpoints, rolled-eye moments, and generational blind spots.  And while understanding those are important, it is more critical to take the next step to determine where we should act to solve these conflicts; the areas of common ground."

Smart companies focus on these areas of common ground for two reasons. First, it is cumbersome and divisive (and sometimes illegal) to create different policies and practices for different age groups; second, it is more positive, efficient, and effective to create a workplace where everyone wins. Employee-centered strategies represent a big win for employers, too. Employee engagement and retention are the keys to business success in the future, and companies that focus on these priorities will be miles ahead of the competition.  –Excerpt

Alexander and Magnuson identified four areas of common ground:

1.       Flexibility

2.       Leaders who coach

3.       Development opportunities

4.       Respect

This list means that it should be pretty easy to resolve conflict, right?

Not so fast.

"The biggest challenge is understanding that respect means different things to different generations," said Alexander. "We inherently understand that everyone wants respect, but if we show respect to everyone in the same way we would want it, it doesn’t work.   If you change the lens of how respect is viewed across the generations, your interactions will show respect in the appropriate ways for each group."

Let’s talk about respect a little bit. In Work with Me, the Gen Y definition of respect "means understanding and accepting the way their generation functions in the world. Don’t we see how smart they are and how much they have to offer their employers? If we don’t see it, we don’t respect them."

I would say that’s pretty on target. For example, I never understand why there seems to be a barrier to entry at the appropriate level for a recent college grad. Why do companies continue to hire top students from prestigious universities as file clerks?

And don’t play the "they-applied-for-the-job" card.  Many are using that first file clerk job as a foot in the door to something more challenging if they have been screened out of other opportunities. If that employer has no viable career path, then on to the next job or role. Gen-Yers will continue to hop until they have found something engaging and challenging. I know I did.

And then the recession happened.

"Flexibility is going to be imperative during this economy," said Magnuson. "Denying people a flexible work environment causes disengagement, cynicism, and dissatisfied employees, which leads to less productivity.   Many people of all ages are starting to think in terms of results rather than "butts in seats" productivity.  If the work is getting done and the results are good, does it really matter where it gets done? Companies aren’t making the shift fast enough, and in this economy that will reflect on engagement and retention. "

So Work with Me hold tremendous value right now. When companies are being forced to make difficult decisions, taking into account their future workforce will be necessary to make the right calls.

In our next entry, we will be looking at what Alexander and Magnuson project for the future, in addition to the biggest surprises they found while writing this book.


Win a copy of Work with Me! Post a comment to this blog and you will be entered in a drawing to win a signed copy of the book. Additional information can be found at Also available for Amazon Kindle.


The views expressed in my blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.