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Part 2: Generational Diversity in Government – What’s Your Generation Thinking?

As a recap, 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. In Part 1 of this series we (the panelists) 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, some additional questions and answers offering generational insights and perspectives:

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

1) It’s your first week on the job: how do you establish and build trust with your supervisor and your co-workers?

Sunny – Our Baby Boomer: Slogan: Give trust – get trust. As a manger, for me, it’s mostly about staying authentic – meaning ensure my words and my actions match.

Andy – Our X-er: Lunch. Seriously, I think that every employee’s first week on the job should include a one on one lunch with the supervisor and another social setting for meeting the rest of the team, whether that’s a happy hour or dinner. There’s something special that happens when we break bread together. I also think that the key to building trust is to asking the right questions (vs. lots of questions) not only about the job but about the people. Part of every job is completing the work and associated tasks, but 80% of it is often learning about co-workers’ personality and work styles, then seeking to adapt effectively to everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. If I can demonstrate (a) that I will contribute to their success, (b) that I will pull my weight and (c) I’m a relatively easy person to get along with…then that first week should set the stage for a productive, positive environment of trust…which can only really be earned over time.

Scott – Our Y-er: Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, both personal and professional, yet it sometimes seems to lack in the workplace. Some quick and easy ways that I would begin to build trust with my supervisor and co-workers:


When first starting a new job most of us, including myself, are nervous and apprehensive. We are usually thinking (among other things):

  • “How will I fit in?”
  • “Will they like me?”
  • “I need to show them they made the right decision in hiring me.”
  • “Who is who and how should I interact with them?”

These are perfectly normal feelings. One key way to build trust is to communicate these feelings, ask questions that will help you get answers. By having conversations with those on your team, communicating with them, you are taking a first step at understanding the organization and those who work with you. People find it easier to trust someone they can relate to who, someone who makes an effort to engage with them – I try to be that someone!


Once you begin to ask questions and communicate with your supervisor and your co-workers, listen to the responses you get. This is a sure fire way to help build trust, show interest in those you communicate with and respond appropriately. When people sense you are genuinely interested in what they have to say trust begins to increase, they are more likely to continue to open up and share more both personally and professionally.


After you communicate, and after you listen, make mental notes of what you are seeing and hearing and engage and continue trust building conversations and activities. Treat this as a two way street and share information about yourself as well (to the level you are comfortable with). Trust building is an ongoing activity.

More information on trust in the workplace can be found in a previous article: The Business Case for Trust.

2) What if you learned that your colleagues had exchanged a series of emails, stating that you “did nothing” on a recent project where you gave 110%?

Sunny – Our Baby Boomer: If I’m perceived as not having contributed, I’d reach back to find out what a valued contribution would look like; and, find out how I could add value to the process moving forward.

Andy – Our X-er: I’d be pretty hurt, I think, especially if I felt as if my contribution was meaningful and substantive. Though it’s hard to do, I would definitely confront my colleagues – not in the sense of “how dare you” but more in terms of “how could I have done better?” If the responses were fair, I’d apologize and pledge to do better next time. Of course, if I thought those remarks didn’t reflect reality, I would try to share a bit about my effort and gain clarity with them. I’m never satisfied with the status quo, so to have missed the mark for standard performance would leave me hungry to come back the next time and prove my value to the team.

Scott – Our Y-er: I view this question somewhat differently than my generational colleagues. Since the situation involves my colleagues, and not my supervisor or other leadership, I would deal with it by bluntly and promptly confronting my colleagues. If I knew I gave a project 110% and put in my full effort, no way I would let anyone else try and take credit for that. That said tact is important here when confronting those individuals circulating incorrect information. I would first take the calm approach, similar to Sunny’s response. If in fact that approach elicited constructive feedback, that although I gave 110% I was completely off the mark on my deliverables, then I would apologize and be open to hearing how to improve in the future. If however I received no constructive feedback at all and learned from my conversations that the emails simply had to do with other factors – un discussed personality conflicts, the fact none of my colleagues also gave 110% etc. then I would make my opinions known – that in the future I would appreciate honest and overt communication up front and early – and if I thought my performance would be effected I may even escalate to leadership as needed.

3) How could your boss best say to you “job well done” – words, cash bonus, flex schedule, time off, something else?

Sunny – Our Baby Boomer: A job well done for me is ‘Public acknowledgement in front of my peers, staff, colleagues and other leaders.’ Time off is not a reward for me, I have plenty of time now that I don’t take. Cash is never refused; however, not the number one motivator. Flex schedule – what’s that? I work 12-14 hours a day now.

Andy – Our X-er: Just trust me and give me a long leash. In fact, cut the leash and let me run! I don’t mind more money and like to have an incentive beyond my salary, but generally I like to work in such a manner that the boss has peace of mind, saying “I can count on that guy to get the job done and at extremely high quality.” Of course, I think one of my love languages is “Words of Affirmation” (if you haven’t read “Five Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman, check it out – definitely applies to work!), so you can tell me directly I’ve “crushed it,” too.

Scott – Our Y-er: I agree with both Sunny and Andy on this one. I am big on acknowledgement. This doesn’t have to be a huge plaque in front of the entire organization, however a simple and genuine “thank you for all your hard work…” goes a long way. Another way to tell me I am performing well is to let me keep on performing – add some more responsibility to my work and don’t micro manage. Cash is never refused, though sometimes a more thoughtful use of a incentive speaks volumes. For example, I love the Caribbean! I once had a boss (and this also goes to the question on trust) who knew I went on a cruise every year, she listened to me when I spoke about my hobbies and likes. As a reward for meeting a deadline early she presented me with a $100 shipboard credit to use while on my vacation. The best part about this, and what motivated me most, was that I didn’t even know she had done this until I checked into my stateroom. This boss took to time to listen and understand my interests and hobbies. This went a long way toward building trust and maintaining my engagement and high performance. Flex time is also a great way for a boss to show they have faith in my ability and performance. If I am given the ability work from home, instead of having to come to the office where they could watch over me, and deal with a hellish commute (for those in DC you know what that is like!) then that also sends the message they trust me and feel I’m doing a good job.

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. I thank my colleagues for their insights and hope those of us from multiple generations can continue to learn from one another in the workplace. Do you have any additional insights from your generation? What is your organization doing to help raise awareness around generational diversity?

About Scott Span, MSOD: is President of Tolero Solutions an Organizational Development & Change Management consulting firm. He helps clients be more focused, responsive and effective to facilitate sustainable growth
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