The Multigenerational and Multicultural
Meet Kurt. He is a 22-year-old African American man and a
recent graduate of the same university where he is employed
in the student affairs office. Kurt is eager, energetic, and wants
to focus on projects that truly intrigue him and showcase his
talents. He has always felt that he has to work harder than
everyone else to be taken seriously. Kurt has a lot of new and
innovative ideas, but feels that his supervisor and some of
his older colleagues (even those who are only slightly older)
do not value his opinions. He is getting tired of hearing,
“That’s not how we do things here.” Recently he has become
more lackadaisical about his work, often not communicating
directly with his supervisor, but sending e-mails to ask questions or forward assignments.
Meet Mona. She is a 34-year-old Latina and is assistant
director for student affairs. She has been in her position for
two years. Mona feels strongly that building personal relationships with colleagues is crucial to a well-run office, and she
takes the time every day to speak with her coworkers, share a
few words and laughter, and be available to any employees or
colleagues who need her assistance. She often works overtime
to help others with projects and to complete her own. Yet she
is concerned that her manager does not allow her time off in
return for the extra hours worked—time that she feels is necessary to maintain some balance in her life. In fact, she does
not feel she receives any appreciation or acknowledgement
for her additional efforts to create a friendly and productive
Meet Matthew. He is a 55-year-old White man and is the
director of the student affairs office. Matthew has been at this
university for 10 years and is a self-proclaimed workaholic.
Matthew is the first one in the office each morning and the
last one to leave each night. He has no tolerance for idleness.
He has noticed that many of the young staff members seem to
be allergic to hard work. He feels that, more often than not,
he catches younger staff taking personal calls on their phones,
texting or checking personal e-mail, or listening to their iPods
and tuning out the world. Matthew also becomes irritated
when employees ask for time off for working overtime. He
always works overtime and perceives overtime as part of the
job. In general, Matthew is frustrated with the lack of work
ethic he sees among his younger staff.
Meet Rosemary. She is a 70-year-old African American
woman who has been the receptionist in the student affairs
office for more than 30 years. She loves her work because
she is able to interact with young people all day and watch
students succeed. Rosemary is troubled by the behavior of
younger employees who act disrespectfully toward their
elders. Some younger workers order her around,
which she finds particularly disrespectful given her
years of experience and knowledge of the institution. She also thinks that younger employees feel
entitled to rewards that they have not worked hard
or long enough to deserve. Rosemary is irritated
by complaints she overhears from younger staff
claiming that they do not get the opportunities
they deserve for advancement when they have
only served in their positions for a year or two.
While these four individuals work together in the same
office, in many ways they come from completely different
worlds. Both their generations and their cultures add complexity to their performance and satisfaction in the workplace.
Maximize the Capacity of Work Teams
How can we create a work environment for Kurt, Mona,
Matthew, and Rosemary that enables them to communicate
effectively and productively? In any workplace environment,
individuals have different communication styles, work and
management styles, motivations, and expectations for personal advancement. Often, these characteristics are related to
generational differences. Administrators have the responsibility to determine the most effective organizational culture to
fit the needs of all of these diverse individuals and to lead by
example, modeling mutually respectful behaviors toward all
employees and colleagues.
Administrators must identify the strengths and values that
each individual brings to the organization and develop strategies for maximizing those strengths, as well as identifying and
determining ways to resolve disconnects.
Let’s focus specifically on generational differences to illustrate this point. A well-balanced and productive environment
will include and embrace the values that exist at both extremes
of the continuum of generational diversity.
Generation X and Y employees bring energy and enthusiasm to their work, which can contribute to productivity.
Traditionalists and Baby Boomers bring patience, which can
be instrumental in ensuring that projects are handled with
care and consideration.
Traditionalists and Baby Boomers bring institutional knowl-
edge and wisdom, which builds a strong understanding of the
organizational culture and history and is invaluable for ensur-
ing that the organization does not reinvent the wheel in
any strategies or projects, or fall prey to previous pitfalls
or failures. Generation X and Y bring innovative ideas
and fresh perspectives, which can reinvigorate the organi-
zation and move it in new directions toward success.
Generation X and Y bring advanced technological
skills through their familiarity with the Internet and their
technological literacy. Traditionalists and Baby Boomers
bring knowledge of the system and the fields in which
they work, which helps to ensure that the team is utiliz-