In the era of diverse workforce, managers are primarily concerned with obtaining high levels of performance, through creating workplace synergy among the employees. In most types of workplace, we see employees of different age groups, race, beliefs, work attitudes, leadership style, relationship with others and their mind-set towards higher authority. This creates a generational diversity in the workplace, and has affected how current employee views the workplace. The continual change in work force composition is a direct result of this.
We can classify the workplace into four generations, namely Silent (veterans, matures); Boomer (baby boomers); Generation X (busters, 13th); and Millennial (nexters, Y, digital, Net). To illustrate, I will utilize my past experience as an admin clerk in the army to bring out the differences between two particular generations, that of "Silent" and "Generation X", highlighting some of the problems faced and the compromises to be made for the survival in this workplace. Workplace Dilemma There was a drastic transition period from the basic military training to doing clerical work. Partially, it was due to the working style of my immediate superior, the chief clerk.
She had experience in the admin aspects for the past twenty years, and had formed a set of working principles which was to be strictly adhered to, and any suggestions for improvements was rebuked with dismay. All decisions were made by her alone, and the clerks had to carry them out, regardless of personal interest. Punishments were meted out easily without much room for negotiation. With her added interest in working extra hours to prove her capabilities to others, she has demanded other clerks to stay back as well.
To the clerks, many of us have felt the sense of helplessness, and have desired greatly to leave this place, although we know that is impossible as we are all serving our national service. This is an ideal example of the "Silent" generation worker, where they appear to others as dependable, equipped with good leadership, wise, and experienced experts on their area of work. However, from the subordinate point of view, they could be overbearing, with lack of flexibility and unwillingness to accept other deviant points of views.
Personally, during that period, I was enthusiastic about the new environment and had new ideas on the existing work practices. I saw several problems in current practices as they were either too tedious or impractical. Since highlighting these problems seemed futile, I took my own initiative to do them in a more efficient manner. However, this was greeted with hostility and in the end; I was punished for doing something which actually help to attain the same results with less work. I was labeled as uncooperative by my superior, and was treated badly as compared to others who were quiet conformists.
Negative feedback like these had inhibited any further new ideas, and enforces the notion that conforming is the way to go. This is a close resemblance of the "Generation X" workers, where workers are action oriented, focused, competent in the task at hand, and practical. However, the worker can also be defiant of authority, and hence difficult to manage.
Managing Generational Diversity Upon communicating with these "quiet conformists", I found that each of them had their own interesting approach to improve work situation, and work efficiency. However, due to the working style of my superior, with emphasis on conformity, most of these good ideas were stacked away for good. Eventually, two diverse groups of colleagues were observed in my office. The first group was the "proactive clerks" and the second group was the "passive clerks".
In being "proactive", we do not refer to being enthusiastic about work; on the contrary, it refers to how these groups of workers take several measures to ensure that they have a peaceful time in the duration of their national service. In order to enhance their relationship with the superiors and reduce the chances of being punished, they have gone as far as to give her free treats every morning, offering to drive her home, and even become her spy to report the latest office gossips to her. Apparently, this approach of managing generational diversity appears to work, as I have seen situations in which these groups of people have committed serious mistakes, but which were lightly let off. On the other hand, the "passive clerks" were conscientious people who take great pains in performing their jobs well, even if working longer hours was needed. They are also not interested in office politics, or trying to win the favor of the immediate superior. However, I feel that their efforts are often unappreciated, and any mistake they make, will result in severe punishment, overlapping any accomplishment achieved in the past.
Comparing these two groups of workers, it makes us ponder the true meaning of work. As much as we would like to think that more effort invested should bring in more rewards, be it intrinsic or extrinsic, but in the real situation, it is dependent on several situations. In our case, it is clear that if we bring the "proactive clerk" and the "passive clerk" together, and both of them happened to make the same mistake, it is more likely that the "proactive clerk" will be able to get away with it, while the other party will get punished. Similarly, if both of them have accomplished the same desired goals, it is very probable that the "proactive clerk" will receive much recognition, given that the superior already has a preferential perception of that person. Comparing this army workplace to the workplace outside, we see clear differences, of which the former is mainly comprised of Singaporeans or Singapore PR, whereas in the latter, there are lots of people of different nationalities, culture, working style, and communications skills.
It makes us ponder if what has been practiced in my previous workplace is applicable in the workplace in the new economy. If this is so, doesn't it send the wrong signals to the employees? Instead of rewarding/punishing based on individual performances, it is now based on how well you get along with the superior, and this will affect the way the employers think of the workplace. Performance may drop substantially and the whole aim of introducing diversity into the workplace to share experiences and ideas will be compromised by the desire to please the immediate superior so that he/she can get a stable job, and better promotion opportunities. To conclude, although the two years spent in the army work environment was not very conducive, it has given me a more in-depth look at the intricacies that can be involved in the workplace, such as maintaining self survival, and that work performance may not be the decisive factor for recognition in the workplace. My previous workplace was not encouraging in promoting team spirit, and the clerks seldom felt the need to go the extra mile for work. The beliefs and values held by one will influence the person strongly in his way of interaction with others of same level and also superiors.
To survive, most of us will tend to weigh the costs and benefits and depending on the situation, select the role or identities that we would like to portray to others. In this context, some of the clerks have resorted low to please their superiors in non-work related areas in order to secure their own self survival, while potentially threatening others. Another group decided to just focus on the task on hand, ensuring that there will be no mistakes and hence reduce the possibility of punishment. Hence, over here, we witness two different ways of managing generational diversity. In the new economy, it takes two hands to clap, so both the upper management and the employees have to adapt their working style to suit each other, so as to maximize potential of all, and create a more productive workplace.
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