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In the Know: Avoid stereotyping employees

You've probably heard many times over about the generational differences in the workplace and how employers have to treat Millennial (born 1980-1994) and Gen Z (born 1995-2012) employees differently than the generations that have come before them.

Personally, I have found much of the information about the younger generations and their work ethic to be critical or negative, and in conversations with people in these age classifications, many of them have felt a bit attacked by the stereotypes as well.

I'd encourage employers to stop paying attention to the stereotypes and start paying attention to the individual people.

Hopefully the following doesn't come as a surprise to you: You will find unengaged, lazy, entitled, highly sensitive employees in every generation. But there's good news! You will also find committed, hard-working, enthusiastic, adaptable employees in every generation.

I am a believer that everyone is shaped by their upbringing. You model the behavior of those you learned from growing up — parents, siblings, extended family, friends, peers, teachers, adult mentors, and so on. Everyone is also shaped by their surroundings, circumstances and educational opportunities.

While the "people" part of this equation may not change drastically through the decades, the "opportunities" part of it most certainly does.

Technology (Internet, social media, cell phones) has made our world much smaller. People are connected in ways never before possible. Along with that comes an overwhelming amount of information and opportunity and abundance that of course includes countless benefits, but also countless detriments.

The best thing we can do as a society is to continue modeling the behavior we wish to see — in both our personal and our professional lives. How do you want your child to act/react/perform? How do you want your employees to act/react/perform?

I have two Gen Z daughters, ages 21 and 18. They are very different from each other, yet I often see a lot of my habits in each of them... good, and — as hard as it is to admit — not so good.

I have three Millennial employees in their 20s, along with one Gen Z summer intern. They are also very different from each other. They have different characteristics, thoughts, beliefs, strengths, areas for growth, good habits, not so good habits, hopes, dreams and needs. They are all incredible employees who don't exhibit the stereotypical "it's all about me" attitudes that many articles will tell you are true of Millennial workers. I also catch glimpses of them picking up my ways or behaviors, again good and not so good.

It's time we stop looking for the flaws in the next "generation" of employees and turn the focus back to the employees as individuals.

Don't fall prey to the generational stereotyping. The biggest mistake any leader could make would be to try to set up a generalized "Millennial-friendly" workplace and think that will make all the employees in that age bracket happy.

The second best thing a leader can do — for any employee of any generation — is to have open conversations with them to find out what they need to be successful and to be great employees.

The first best thing a leader can do? Model the behavior you hope to see in your team.

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Tara Bitzan is the executive director of the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. "In the Know" is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.

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