Who Should I Have Lunch With?

How to Create a Strong and Supportive Business Network Using Generational Strengths

By Susan B. Pettine, PhD, CBM
Published July 2015

In today's increasingly connected workplace and world, it is more important than ever to be able to create a strong and supportive business network. Being able to recognize your own generational strengths, as well as those around you, can help you be more effective in developing the right network for YOU!

Business networking has been around for a long time. In times past, it evoked scenes of cigar-smoking men having drinks and making deals. Or even rolling across a golf course discussing business and the back nine. However, in today's diverse workplace and world, business networking can take many different forms. So being aware and ready can help one to create a strong network for years to come!

Business networking has been long recognized as being valuable in the workplace for accomplishing tasks/goals, social support, and career development and advancement (Bartol and Zhang, 2007). Being able to effectively interact with others, giving them your full attention and providing them with the kind of interaction that they respond well to, will help you build a strong network for yourself. There are a wide variety of mutual benefits in the workplace when one has a solid and effective network in place (Linehan and Scullion, 2008).

One of the major changes in today's workplace (and there are certainly a LOT of changes, but this article will focus on just one) is the fact that we now can have up to five different generations together in one workplace. This is a first! There are Traditionalists (who were born prior to 1946), Baby Boomers (who were born between 1946 and 1964), Gen Xers (who were born between 1965 and 1976), Millennials (who were born between 1977 and 1997), and Gen 2020 (or sometimes known as Plurals) (who were born after 1997) (Knight, 2014).

It is important to recognize that generations of employees are molded by the times in which they came of age (Bennis & Thomas, 2002). Conger (1997) stated that each generational time period has a "distinct wind or character" (Hesselbein, Goldsmith, & Beckhard (Eds), 1997). Traditionalists, for instance, have a foundation of respect for authority as well as a sense of duty and honor (Hammill, 2005). Baby Boomers are often described as "workaholics" who obtain fulfillment from their job (Hammill, 2005). Gen X is the first workforce generation that has a comfort level with technology, and they are self-reliant (Hammill, 2005). Millennials are entrepreneurial in nature, able to multitask quite easily, and prefer immediate feedback (Hammill, 2005). Gen 2020 came up in a world where the Internet was increasingly available and ubiquitous. They have never known life without connectivity, computers, games, and apps (Cates, Cojanu, and Pettine, 2013).

With this mind, it can be useful in utilizing the most efficient methods to interact and network with each relevant generation. For instance, if you wanted to reach out and invite someone to lunch, each generation might look like this:

  • Traditionalist Invitation: Call ahead to the Traditionalist and ask if you could stop by their office at a certain time. You would then show up, on time, and sit down and formally invite them to lunch.

  • Baby Boomer Invitation: Stop by their office when you see them in there and ask them when they had time to get together for lunch.

  • Gen X Invitation: Send an email asking them to meet you for lunch.

  • Millennial Invitation: Send them a text message asking them to meet you for lunch.

  • Plural Invitation: Post to their Facebook wall and then check with Four Square to see where they were Mayor.

So you can see from the quick examples above that it can be helpful to know how each generation communicates best in order to be most effective in engaging with them. Having a diverse and eclectic business network in today's fast-paced workplace can provide you a strong and healthy work foundation for years to come.

Susan B. Pettine, PhD, CBM,is a faculty member at Purdue Global. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Purdue Global.