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‘Shared values’: Bringing employees from different generations together

MaryBeth Hyland

When you’re at work, are you goal-oriented and laser-focused on metrics to achieve those goals? Or do you have an entrepreneurial spirit and penchant to figure things out?

The answer may be a result of your generation, said MaryBeth Hyland, a workplace culture specialist.

Hyland works with companies to help them understand their workplace’s values and motivations and to implement those commonalities to work towards company goals. To do this, she often works across generations to show how the goal-oriented baby boomer and the entrepreneurial millennial have more in common than they think.

“The idea of coming together through shared values is the core of what I do,” Hyland said.

“Shared values” may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of intergenerational workplaces, especially among baby boomers, people born after World War II and through the mid-1960s, and millennials, people born from the 1980s to the late 1990s. But, Hyland says, getting people to have meaningful, deep connections about their motivations can improve workplace culture and cohesion – which is even more important as workplaces are connecting from a remote environment.

There are currently as many as five generations within the workplace, but not all may be represented in every company. The oldest, the Silent Generation, grew up as America was coming out of World War II and their presence in the workforce is shaped by mostly traditionalist values.

The number of baby boomers in the workforce is only rivaled by the number of millennials, 76 million to the millennials’ 80 million. But this generational rivalry is broken up by the generation in between, Generation X, of the 1960s and 1970s, who share values with both baby boomers and millennials. And while most of Gen Z, one of the more recent generations, is still in high school and college, a small portion of this population has just entered the workforce.

Hyland, a millennial, started her journey in workplace culture at United Way, where she managed an affinity group for young professionals. Her direction, aimed at engaging young people in their work, quadrupled membership in one year, and soon her workplace model was being used across the global organization.

Then, when she started her business, SparkVision, aimed at empowering employees through interpersonal connection and collaboration, “Companies were asking me to figure out what to do about millennials,” Hyland said. “But by catering programming to one part of the population, we actually drive people apart.”

Instead, Hyland focuses on helping individuals within companies she works with identify their values and where they come from. Then, she puts everyone’s values in conversation with one another, so employees can see what drives their colleagues. From there, employees develop a code of conduct based on these values and figure out how they can embody that code as a team to work towards shared goals.

Ann Quinn

Connecting across generational divides has been especially necessary in the transition to a work-from-home environment, something that Ann Quinn, principal at Quinn Strategy Group, has seen in her own work as a business strategy consultant.

“Everybody wants to get effective communication, receive positive feedback,” said Quinn, who is a member of Gen X. “Those are shared. The challenge for the workplace is how to create remote work or hybrid or full [in-person] that embraces that.”

Like Hyland, Quinn helps facilitate conversations between stakeholders in the companies she works with to help leaders develop a vision for the company. While these plans can look different for different companies, visioning begins with a clear understanding of a company’s strengths and weaknesses – and usually, that involves reaching across generational lines.

Quinn recalls advising a family foundation that was trying to bring its third generation in to support the organization. As a family, she said, they had never had a conversation about values. So that’s what they did under Quinn’s direction, and Quinn was able to point out values of entrepreneurship and integrity that were shared even though they manifested differently in each generation. This mutual understanding ultimately helped steer the foundation into living those values in a way that included the third generation’s support.

Leadership’s willingness to try new things is key, Quinn said. While business leaders may think they are communicating effectively, sometimes they may have a different understanding of where the company is at than the employees.

“You have to really understand where you are and what’s going on before you decide where you want to go,” Quinn said.

Women Who Lead This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Women Who Lead: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Women Who Lead (formerly Path to Excellence) magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Women Who Lead.