Ag News

Leading generations: Use differences to build a stronger team

by Jennifer Whittaker, Georgia Farm Bureau

Posted on Feb 22, 2023 at 0:00 AM

By Jennifer Whittaker, Georgia Farm Bureau

Generational differences are nothing new. What’s different is, thanks to people living longer and being healthier, we have more generations still actively involved in the workplace and volunteer organizations.

Anna Leigh Peek, Nutrien Ag Solutions senior advisor for learning & development, led an insightful workshop at the Georgia Farm Bureau (GFB) Presidents’ Conference Feb. 1, looking at the five generations that county Farm Bureau leaders are most likely working with in their communities. Peek, a Newton County Farm Bureau member who is vice chairman of the GFB Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee, grew up on a cotton farm in Alabama.

Whether you’re supervising multiple generations of employees on your farm or leading them as president of a volunteer organization, like a county Farm Bureau, knowing what makes each generation tick and helping them understand each other is key to having a stronger team, Peek said.

“Your county boards can be a mix of folks of different ages who do different types of farming,” Peek said. “For us to continue to have success and work together, we need to understand what each generation brings to the table.”

Peek encouraged county Farm Bureau leaders to engage multiple generations as volunteers because of the benefits that come from having a multigenerational team, such as 1) multiple perspectives; 2) diverse problem-solving abilities; 3) learning & mentoring opportunities; 4) institutional knowledge transfer/retention and 5) unique relationships.

“Georgia Farm Bureau’s motto is ‘We are all Farm Bureau.’ Even though we may all have a passion for agriculture, how we view the world, work and Farm Bureau can vary,” Peek said.

Meet the 5 generations

Peek gave an overview of the five generations active in Farm Bureau today. The Silent Generation was born from 1928-1945 and are 78-95 years old. Baby Boomers were born from 1946-1964 and are 59-77 years old. Gen X was born between 1965 through 1980 and are 43-58 years old. Millennials were born from 1981 to 1996 and are 27-42 years old while Gen Z was born from 1997 through 2012 and are 11-26 years old.

It's important to recognize the major world events each generation experienced during its formative years and how these events shaped each generation’s communication preferences, work philosophies and life values, Peek said.

The Silent Generation witnessed the introduction of planes, cars, indoor plumbing and mechanization of agriculture. Many lived during the Great Depression, and all lived through World War II.

Baby Boomers were shaped by the growing post-war economy the U.S. experienced after WWII, the Cold War, the space race that culminated with the moon landing, seeing fathers go off to the Korean War and later serving in Vietnam themselves. The Civil Rights and feminist movements also shaped Baby Boomers’ perspectives.

Gen Xers saw their parents cope with the gas crisis of the 1970s coupled with high inflation followed by the 1980s farm crisis. Many celebrated America’s bicentennial. On the nightly news they watched Americans held hostage in Iran for 444 days and saw the Cold War come to an end with the fall of the Berlin Wall. This generation was the last to grow up without technology being tied to every aspect of their lives, but it witnessed the introduction of personal computers and the early days of video games.

Millennials are more comfortable with technology as they grew up with personal computers and saw email and the Internet introduced in their childhoods. Many were growing up as reality shows took over TV networks and social media platforms became a way of life. They also witnessed the first mass school shooting at Columbine, 9/11, and came of age during the Great Recession.

 Gen Zers grew up in an influencer culture and doesn’t know what it’s like to live without cell phones or personal computers. Mass shootings have become a regular occurrence and politics have become more polarized. Whistle blowers sharing state secrets via Wiki-Leaks has become a regular event. The younger members of this generation are still being shaped.

Don’t make assumptions

Peek said it’s important to remember there are exceptions to generalizations about each generation and to try to get to know each person individually before assigning generational assumptions to anyone. How someone is raised and the values/morals our parents instill in us can make members of one generation identify with the generation ahead of them.

“Try to get to know the individual. Just because you’ve seen or previously experienced a particular type of behavior with someone from another generation, try to get to know the new person you are working with before labeling them with all the negative traits of their generation,” Peek said. “I’m a millennial. I get frustrated with some people in my generation, but it makes me mad when people say, ‘Millennials don’t work hard.’ I grew up on a farm, and I have a good work ethic. Not every Boomer was at Woodstock just like every Millennial isn’t a Kardashian.”

Each generation has a communication preference

Peek identified the following as the preferred method of communication for each generation: Silent (written, formal communication); Baby Boomers (call); Gen X (email/text); Millennials (text/messaging on social media); Gen Z (snapchat).

“Be flexible with your communication style and preference to communicate in the manner different generations prefer,” Peek said. “If you’re a Boomer and you want a Millennial to call you, tell them nicely.”

 While younger generations may prefer to communicate by text or social media, in a work situation, email is essential. If a co-worker reaches out by email or text, professional courtesy requires one to respond to their message in a timely manner.

Generational positive & challenging traits

Peek says each generation of volunteers brings assets to the table that can benefit Farm Bureau.

These assets can include: Silent (dependable/detail oriented); Baby Boomers (politically savvy, challenge the status quo); Gen X (direct communicators, determined); Millennials (collaborators, tech savvy); Gen Z (practical, natural entrepreneurs).

Challenging traits each generation may have that cause conflict with other generations include:  Silent (don’t like ambiguity or change); Baby Boomers (less collaborative/may expect everyone to be a workaholic); Gen X (skeptical, dislikes rigid requirements); Millennials (need structure, distaste for menial work); Gen Z (risk averse, prefer virtual communication).

Generational values & motivation

Values - the principles that drive our actions and view of life – are usually different for each generation. Values associated with each generation are: Silent (respect, sacrifice, duty before pleasure); Baby Boomers (equality, personal growth, make a difference); Gen X (independence, informality, solve problems in a practical way); Millennials (sociability, diversity, realism); Gen Z (inclusion, safety, sincerity).

“Millennials value realism and Gen Z sincerity, so, if Farm Bureau as an organization isn’t living up to what we say our values are, they tune out,” Peek said.

The things that motivate each generation are: Silent (experience is respected, recognition); Baby Boomers (you are needed/valued, money, teamwork); Gen X (freedom to do it your way, money/recognition); Millennials (time off, working with others); Gen Z (opportunities to display creativity, unique experiences). 

Aspirations & view of work

Each generation aspires to achieve different things through their jobs or volunteer involvement. Peek said home ownership was the ultimate achievement for the Silent Generation. Baby Boomers valued job security, so many were workaholics. Gen X saw their parents work a lot, so most prioritized having better work-life balance, but some followed in their parents’ footsteps. Millennials seek freedom and flexibility in their jobs, Peek said. Gen Z values stability and security in their jobs.

Members of each generation typically have different views of work, Peek said. For the Silent Generation, work is an obligation, and they have respect for authority. Baby Boomers have company loyalty and are team players. Gen Xers are usually more loyal to a profession than staying at one company, and they want work-life balance. Millennials, Peek said, seek fulfillment from work, which they see as a means to an end, and want to work with, not for, bosses. Gen Z wants meaningful work and flexibility in their jobs.

How to lead across generations

Peek offered advice for helping county Farm Bureau volunteers from different generations work together.

She encouraged county leaders to be aware of their own tendencies and those of their volunteers. Realize and accept that different generations may not always relate. 

Remember the benefits that come from having a multigenerational team such as multiple perspectives, diverse problem-solving abilities, mentoring opportunities, organizational knowledge transfer, and unique relationships.

“Work to improve your emotional intelligence. Try to perceive what is causing conflict between volunteers or employees and relate to others constructively,” Peek said. “This may mean not saying things you would like to say.”

Peek challenged county Farm Bureau leaders to use their new insights to handle one of their relationships with someone of a different generation differently.

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