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3 Dangers of Generational Generalizations

Posted on August 15, 2012 by Leslie Dickson

As a member of Gen-Y, or a “millennial”, I’m sensitive to articles with tips for “Managing Gen-Y employees”. Even if the articles offer decent leadership advice, most of them have three things in common. First, the authors are not millennials, they merely manage them. Second, the tips could be applied to all employees, not just the Gen –Ys. And finally, they contain at least two to three negative stereotypes about the entire generation, including: they’re incapable of receiving criticism; they believe they’re entitled, and they don’t like rules. Needless to say, such articles make me spew fire at my computer screen.

My generation is not alone. Countless blog posts and articles across the web are dedicated to managing strategies for specific generations. The advice is well-intentioned, but stereotypes in any form are dangerous, especially if managers take them to heart. Here are three reasons every manager should avoid generation generalizations.

#1 There Are Always Exceptions

One of my favorite retail experiences involved an eighty-year-old woman. As she entered her local electronics store, she asked where she could find the latest Call of Duty video game. In the spirit of the small talk, a staff member asked, “Is this for your grandson?” The woman floored everyone by announcing, “Oh no, it’s for me. I love those games!”

This woman’s surprising response is a clear demonstration of why there are no universal truths in business—or leadership. Every employee is different. This is why Voice Pro®’s leadership courses help business leaders learn how to communicate with specific individuals, not stereotyped groups.

One way to discover the management styles your employees love or hate is to simply ask them. If they like structure, give it to them. If they do hate rules, explain why those rules are necessary and make sure they’re fair. If you find you’re in constant conflict with an employee, take steps to reconcile the differences. The answer to your questions might mean an adjustment on your part, but a happier, more productive workforce will be worth it.

#2 Assumptions Lead To Anger

It’s not hard to see why negative assumptions are irritating. If someone assumes you’re incompetent with technology because you’re over forty, it’s insulting. Positive assumptions can be dangerous as well. Just ask a seven-footer if he’s good at basketball. You’re almost guaranteed to get a negative response.

You will be a stronger leader if your actions are based on knowledge, not assumptions. Acting on an assumption means you ask your youngest employee for help with your computer based on her age alone. Acting on knowledge means you ask her for help because her resume lists experience in IT. As long as you make your reasoning clear, acting on knowledge will compliment your employees’ talents without offending them.

#3 Embracing Stereotypes Hinders Learning

Stereotypes are dangerous for a number of reasons. They strip away individuality and they can lead to uniformed opinions and decisions. As a manager, embracing generational stereotypes can blind you to legitimate critiques.

If an older employee complains about a lack of structure you can chalk it up to Baby Boomer stereotypes. Likewise, a Gen X employee that’s skeptical of the new company policy and a Gen Y employee who questions the rules can be attributed to generational differences. Trouble is, your employees may need structure, your new company policy may lose business, and rules in place may be arcaic and unnecessary.

Don’t let stereotypes devalidate legitimate gripes. Instead, opt for discussion and take your employees reasoning into consideration. You may not agree but now you have a better understanding of your business and your employees.

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