Workplaces today are increasingly diverse. One area that is often overlooked is the increasing gap in age distribution in the workforce, with baby boomers often working alongside millennials in a variety of roles. Not surprisingly, different generations approach work with different attitudes that can lead to miscommunication and division within teams. However, when managers take steps to bridge this generation gap to align their teams, the results are substantive - higher employee engagement as well as a stronger workplace culture.
Different Approaches from Different Generations
In general, older generations such as Boomers and Gen Xers are more comfortable with a set work schedule that they can organize their personal life around. They often equate their willingness to work long hours as a reflection of their worth ethic. This can bring them into conflict with younger generations, such as millennials and Gen Y, who look for flexibility and like to shift their schedules to accommodate their personal lives.
While older workers may have adapted to newer technologies, they are more likely to prioritize face to face communication, phone calls, and formal meetings. Younger workers, on the other hand, are much more comfortable using instant messaging, even for sharing important information.
Expectations for Feedback and Recognition
Millennials and younger workers highly value growth and development opportunities. Compared to older generations they require much more immediate feedback and frequent recognition to stay engaged. For Gen Xers and Boomers, formal reviews coupled with annual pay raises are more acceptable with less need for day to day feedback.
Strategies to Bridge the Generation Gap
Call Out Age Biases and Assumptions
Despite the generalizations presented above, be careful to not stereotype age groups and make assumptions about individual skills and preferences. Explicitly challenge assumptions about age groups and encourage employees to express their preferred working styles. This can go a long way to improving team collaboration and to helping avoid employees feeling misunderstood.
Emphasize Communication in a Variety of Ways
Provide a wide range of communication tools and styles for employees. This includes everything from face-to-face meetings and phone calls to email and instant messaging. In addition, bring staff together for team building exercises and social events. This encourages interactions that may not occur through other channels and can lead to improved communication overall.
Focus on Accomplishments
Many organizations are finding success and improved employee engagement across generations by focusing on employee accomplishments and contributions. This means that high quality contributors may be rewarded with salaries and responsibilities similar to more experienced team members. This levels the playing field while still recognizing experienced employees who leverage their experience for successful results. It also removes the emphasis on positions and titles, helping resolve a common source of tension between older and younger workers.
Establish Two-Way Mentoring
When addressing the gap between generations in the workplace, it is important to remember that each generation has unique strengths to offer. Older generations can provide coaching based on real-world experience and teach soft skills, while younger generations can help introduce new technologies and hard skills. Sometimes referred to as “reverse mentoring”, this approach encourages respect to flow in both directions.
Avoid Age Segregation
It can be common in teams for members to naturally group themselves by age. Over time, this limits the amount of ideas and best practices shared. Having older and younger staff work more closely together and interact more often helps increase the exchange of ideas. This increases productivity and innovation as well as improves both employee engagement and workplace culture.
Different generational attitudes in the workplace don’t necessarily lead to miscommunication or tension. Organizations should work on fostering an environment that values the unique experiences and priorities of each age group. When employees feel a sense of mutual respect and recognition, it improves individual motivation and team collaboration. For organizations, this will ensure improved employee performance and a joint commitment to successful results.
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