2010, K HR Solutions, Hardcover, 98 pages, $20.00
Age discrimination or bias is something we all have in common to a certain extent. Some young people—both in the workplace and out—may think of their senior team members as “dinosaurs” who are just not with the times, unaware of new trends, best practices, and new philosophies (particularly where technology is involved). Some senior team members may think of their younger counterparts as inexperienced, unseasoned, and unaware of how the industry (and the world) works. Pride on both sides of the equation may lead everyone involved to forget that they are on the same team and working towards the same goal—the greater good of the company.
GENerate Performance! by Healthcare Businesswoman’s Association member Kim Huggins artfully recognizes the differences in thought, behavior, attitude, and work ethic among the different generations, and offers leaders and coworkers alike practical, real-world solutions for getting the most out of any team, regardless of the generation gap. “Each generation has different expectations and preferences when it comes to how they communicate, how they want to be managed, what they are looking for in a job, and how they approach their work,” she writes.
Rather than attempt to ignore these differences and create a uniform leadership method and work environment for all generations, Huggins’ book specifically calls out such differences in an effort to get the most productivity and happiness out of every employee. Hugging recognizes that—in the same way some of us learn better through visual cues, some through audio cues, and some by hands-on methods—leaders in the workplace can accept age differences and “learn to leverage the strengths of each generation.”
Here’s an example: When you clean your house, you might tackle the job by splitting it into tasks, perhaps in order of preference: dusting everything, then dealing with clothes, then old mail and paper clutter, and so on. Your partner may prefer to do the same work by splitting the house up room-by-room, and doing all the dusting, organizing, sweeping, etc. in one room before moving on to the next. You may be frustrated by your partner’s house cleaning methods, and it may be tempting to tell him or her they’re “doing it wrong,” or even to just do it yourself, because your way is clearly faster or more efficient. But when it comes right down to it, you’re working for the same goal—a clean house—and isn’t it just nice to have the help and split the work with someone, instead of taking it all on yourself? We—especially as women—need to learn to let go, to delegate, and then to trust others to do their part.
In the spirit of recognizing such common goals, Huggins writes, “While most resources focus on the differences between the generations, here you’ll find a focus on the commonalities.” To do this, Huggins begins by identifying four generations who are in the workplace today, distinguishing them by their birth year: Traditionalists (born 1910 – 1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964), Generation X (born 1965 – 1980), and Generation Y (born 1981 – 2000).
One important way to recognize the differences between generations and thus leverage those difference appropriately in the workplace, says Huggins, is to understand how their cultural experiences, historical events, and public role models have helped shape their differing perspectives. She reminds us that the Traditionalists lived through World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Baby Boomers faced Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, and Woodstock and looked up to public figures including Neil Armstrong and JFK. Generation X kids, Huggins says, were largely children of divorce and latchkey kids who witnessed the rise of AIDS; they have a strong reliance on technology and grew up “knowing” Princess Diana. Finally, Generation Y had parents who were sometimes overly focused on safety, considering this generation witnessed tragedies including Columbine, 9/11, Desert Storm, and the Oklahoma City Bombing.
Huggins does a wonderful job of making readers aware that generation-specific experiences like these can help shape a group of people, while also cautioning her audience to avoid stereotypes. Not all characteristics of a generation will apply to all individuals within that group, she notes. “You should never label or ‘peg’ someone on the basis of what generation he or she is a part of,” she writes. “Stereotyping is based on ignorance or error.”
It’s important to note that in the same way that most of us now realize that generalizing or judging a whole group of people based on a shared race, religion, gender, or sexuality is unacceptable (and unproductive when it comes to coexisting in or out of the workplace), the same is true of age. Huggins’ book really made me think about my own generational bias, and ask important questions about myself and my society—why is it so much harder for us to avoid prejudice when it comes to age than with any other factor? The examples in Huggins’ book were easy for me to apply to my own life and my own experiences; just reading through the first chapter gave me flashbacks to specific examples—in and out of the workplace—where my own (or another’s) generational bias acted as a barrier to productivity.
Some great quotes that I took away from the reading were:
“When tempers begin to rise at the conference table, remember one thing: everyone present wants to do a good job and has good intentions.”
“The answer—for every leader, regardless of their generation—is to get to know your people on a personal level.”
“Differences are essential for growth, development, innovation, and—yes—profit.”
The many illustrations, case studies, “quick tips,” real-world examples, and even cartoons in Higgins’ book help (literally) illustrate the points she makes. Breaking up the text in this way makes the information more interesting, more memorable, and more digestible, thus ensuring that the useful information in this book will not stay contained within its pages when the reader walks away.
Book Review by Jennifer Ringler