Part 1:Generational Diversity in Government – What’s Your Generation Thinking?

We’ve all been hearing a lot lately about generations and the generational divide, the generational gap, multi generational conflict in the workplace – some see it as a huge issue, some see it as a small issue, and some don’t see it as an issue at all – yet it is an issue. If the various generations in your organization all see things through a different lens, are thinking differently, carrying pre-determined stereotypes of one another, and not clearly communicating for understanding – performance and morale suffer!

Many organizations, and now the US government, are beginning to recognize the need to raise awareness in these areas and to reduce generational conflict and increase engagement and retention among all generations. I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking on the panel, Bridging the Generation Gap, at the Next Generation of Government Summit in July 2010, sponsored by Govloop. As the 2011 Next Generation of Government Summit is quickly approaching – what better time to reflect back and share experiences from last year’s event.

Regardless of what generation, or other diversity factors you may affiliate with, we all have fundamental human needs that we require met to be most engaged, productive, and successful.

This is the first in a 2 part series that will explore some of those similarities that exist across generations utilizing a cross generational view with insight directly from a Boomer, an X-er and a Y-er.


– Compentence

– Signifigance

– Communication (feeling heard)

This event had the highest energy level of any I can recall attending in a long time, both from the speakers and the attendees! The next generation of government truly is a group of passionate, talented, motivated, engaged, ambitions individuals who are looking to make a difference – my thanks! I was excited to receive positive feedback on the session and I’ve had some great follow on conversations. I wish we had some more time as a panel to get insights and opinions directly from the audience! As since we didn’t, the panelists thought we would find some other forums to continue the dialogue and share multi generational perspectives.

We posed some questions to ourselves and each answered them from our “generational lens.” The learning continues all around…so, straight from the mouths of your peers:

(*responses in order of birth – Boomer, X-er, Y-er)

1) At the end of the day, what would you want your supervisor to say about you?

Sunny – Our Baby Boomer: “Outstanding work – you really made a difference.” I don’t need it often; but, when it comes, it needs to be in public in front of my peers or staff that helped make the difference. I’d also want acknowledgement for creating a positive work environment. When all is said and done, as a manger in today’s government, I’d want appreciation for not just getting work done; but, for doing it while making others feel good about themselves and their contributions along the way. Work is done through people and I can’t do my work without our team!

Andy – Our X-er: “You crushed it.” If I’ve given my best effort and the end product meets or exceeds the target for performance, I just want to get that quick, verbal pat on the back. Of course, that means I’ve been given a clear set of tasks and target dates from the outset so that I know what I’m working toward. That’s all I really need to know: what I need to do and when it’s due. After that, turn me loose and I’ll go out and give 110% to get the job done…it just might not be during normal work hours or at the office space. I’ll probably also take a few swings early in the game and let you get a look at my intentions (swinging for the fence). But rest assured I’ll knock it out so I can hear those three words.

Scott – Our Y-er: At the end of the day I would like my supervisor (or client) to say: “Wow Scott, good work. I appreciate your continued efforts to improve the organization. Scott is a real go-getter. He isn’t shy about sharing new ideas that can help us improve and understands how things fit into the bigger picture. I can always trust Scott to take on new tasks. He enjoys new and challenging work.” As a Gen Y feeling productive, challenged, and connected to the organization are very important to my personal success. I also like to feel like I am making a difference with my work. With that, I enjoy working for those who are open to new ideas and innovations, those who take the time to communicate both personally and professionally.

2) Why do you work for the government?

Sunny – Our Baby Boomer: Bottom line: It’s all about the mission. I could go work 60+ for a consulting firm and earn more. It’s about making a difference in the lives of Americans at HHS and I see that connection to what I do and the positive impact on the organization, its members and our citizens. I am very blessed to work for the government, especially today.

Andy – Our X-er: I’m not a Federal employee, but I like to think of myself as the ‘servant of public servants’. When people join GovLoop, we ask them the following question:“Why are you a public servant?” The most common answer is some variation of “to make a difference.” I believe that our government employees have a heart to help fellow citizens, to be good stewards of tax dollars and to advance the common good. That’s why I work hard every day to get people’s questions answered quickly, to connect people performing similar functions and to make life a little easier for people on the job.

Scott – Our Y-er: I’m not a Federal employee either; however many of my clients are government leaders and employees. I believe that those who choose to work in our government do so because they want to help make a difference in the everyday lives of the rest of us citizens. Since they are trying to help us, I think it only fair to use my skills in multiple areas of organizational development to try and help them – help them to develop more efficient and effective organizations to serve their customers, help them to improve communications internally and among constituents, help them to be better leaders, help to make work a place where they feel valued and rewarded, a place where they enjoy working and where they remain engaged in making a difference for as long as they wish.

3) When you hear the phrase ‘effective communication’, what does that mean to you?

Sunny – Our Baby Boomer:Getting the information where it’s needed and when it’s needed. Work is done based on a specific strategic direction. My job is to ensure timely decisions, issue resolution, socialization of key initiatives and across functional boundaries dialogs take place to keep us moving forward.

Andy – Our X-er: Three things: (1) Clear articulation of a concept or request, (2) Reflection from the listener that indicates comprehension or clarification and (c) Action that makes that communication meaningful and worthwhile. That doesn’t need to happen in an in-person, face-to-face encounter. Sometimes a quick instant/direct message is enough. And we definitely don’t need to be scheduling meetings for everything. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy sitting down across the table from people, but I also believe that technology enables us to accomplish a great deal in asynchronous ways. So effective communication is whatever it takes to advance a project or process.

Scott – Our Y-er: Let’s face it, there is communication and then there is effective communication. A big difference exists between talking to someone, and talking at someone – or not even talking at all. To me, the first step in effective communication is to first understand your audience. Not all people, and or groups of people, prefer to communicate in the same way. I am as comfortable communicating via email, text, and social media as I am face to face. This does not mean however that all those from other generations are as comfortable with this format. Some folks are much more comfortable with a quick phone conversation, or even more so face to face communication. Effective communication is knowing the style best preferred for your audience and having the flexibility to adapt to their style to achieve the most productive interactions. Then you can begin to tailor your message to them in the way that it is most likely to be heard and positively received.

So you see, we all share fundamental basic needs, how we look to have those needs fulfilled and fulfill them for others varies based on many things including our generational lens. Do you agree with the insights from your generation? What are you doing in the workplace to help raise awareness around generational diversity? Stay tuned for additional insights from your generational peers in part 2 of this series posted soon!

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