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Managing different generations at work - The Veterans

Working at a translation company is no different to working at any other company. One of the main differences, however, is that translation companies tend to be more "international" than others - because of the nature of the industry. However, one aspect that is often overlooked is that we also spend time managing different generations at work. I would like to start a series of a few articles in my diary about the different generations I have found in my career and what I have learnt and observed about having different generations at work. I hope you find this useful.

A generation could be easily defined as a group of people born and living during the same time (Merriam Webster Dictionary). In addition to the sheer coincidence of having been born around the same time, a generational cohort is a product of its times and tastes (Zemke, Raines and Filipczac 2013, 16). We can find many different generations, but I will just describe the four that are considered to have the greatest impact in business.
Although it is difficult to consider an exact start-finish date for each group (unfortunately, there is no objectively correct answer) I took the dates agreed by most of the books I have read. It is important also to note that the Generational Theory is an Anglo-Saxon model with its own limitations. The descriptions of each generation do not hold for everybody and above all, managers must avoid the mistake of stereotyping.

Recognizing the importance of geography it is also crucial, since there are differences in perspectives depending on where people were raised. Usually, the more similar their geographical background, the more likely they will show similar workplace behaviour within a specific generation.




Figure 1: Different Generations


Veterans: born between 1922-1945

People born approximately from 1922 – 1945, are also known as Traditionalists or the Silent Generation. The reason why they received this name is because they grew up during a time in which people worked hard and kept quiet, when children “should be seen but not heard”.

Veterans were raised in hard times - during the Great Depression and World War II. There was a worldwide depression in the 1930s. In US alone, nine million people lost their life savings, eighty-six thousand businesses shut and more than 2,000 banks failed. Although the Great Depression started in USA, it quickly turned into a worldwide economic slump. Therefore, not only Americans suffered the consequences, but also Veterans from European countries and other industrialized areas of the world.

To understand this generation, we have to keep in mind the workplace in the 1950s. They had a clear and well-defined hierarchy and there was a clear distance between the boss and worker. This may explain why Veterans believe in the value of rules and authority and prefer hierarchical structures over flat organizations.

Veterans dislike conflict and they tend to avoid confrontational situations, their strengths include strong work ethics, experience, stability, composure, focus and perseverance. They can be described as loyal and patient. Most of them have worked their entire career for the same company, as they are reluctant to change.

Males have mainly composed the Silent Generation at work. This is consistent with the values of this generation, through which women should stay at home taking care of the family and housework.

This generation is also “tech-challenged” which means they are not used to work with the latest technological devices, Internet or computers. Obviously, they are less technologically adapted than the younger generations. However, we should not stereotype all Traditionalists as technophobes. Once they are trained, lots of members of this generation take well to new technology.

It is important to take into account differences across countries. Although veterans have in common some “defining events”, this does not mean that all members have lived these events in the same way. Actually, this generation is the one that most differs all around the world. Even though they all lived a war, it was perceived differently in Europe, Asia or the US. Oliver Stone's early episodes of his documentary "The Untold Story of the United States" is a monument to how different Russians and Americans (and by extension the Allied countries) see events involving Hitler and World War II and post-war events. Whilst anti-communism tarred anything that happened after President's Roosevelt's death, Russians see the war as a national war of liberation or independence, a fight for survival. The Russian death toll at 25 million was by far the highest in the war - much higher than the whole of the Allies and even Germany put together.

When working with younger generations, some Traditionalists may feel uncomfortable when learning from a “20-years-old”. It might be a good idea to find older trainers or teach the younger ones how to speak the language of the Silent Generation. In both cases, it would be advisable to find a coach for the Traditionalist employee who is respected as a leader – in terms of age and experience.

Managers should be open-minded and should consider using older employees for part-time jobs. Many traditionalists do not want to leave completely the workforce and they would be happy to share their experiences with others. Veterans will really appreciate that their age and knowledge are considered assets to the company, rather than liabilities.

There must be no rush when teaching or orienting Traditionalist employees (even if they are just a part-timers). Of course, they feel less confident than younger generations when it comes to learning things on the run. Therefore, they prefer to know what to expect, who is who and which are the policies.

It is important to remember that changes must be done slowly, without surprises. Announcements should be done well in advance and use of surnames and titles it is recommended, since members of this generation usually prefer formality.

If the manager is a young person, it is worth learning from veterans about their background, personal needs, preferences or experiences. It is also important to earn their trust, although it may take time. Their experience must be respected, but young managers must not feel intimidated by it. Avoid the mistake of thinking you know more than everybody else. Traditionalists might have been working in this company many years (not to mention in the industry), so they know what works and what does not work.

When it comes to motivation, use the personal touch. They prefer to work in an atmosphere with living and breathing humans. Try to forge a personal relationship with them and to discover what motivates them.

[to be continued]