Bridging the Generation Gap

With the Greatest Generation (or “Traditionalists”), Baby Boomers, Generations X and Y, Millennials, and Linksters (or “Generation Z”) all snuggled up together in the workplace, it’s bound to be anything but boring!

For the first time in history, 6 different generations must come together in the workforce. Diversity is strength but with so many different work styles jumbled together, it comes as no surprise that this is one of the biggest challenges facing companies today.

Here are a few things to consider when managing the Generation Gap in your organization. The biggest mistake companies make? Pretending the gap doesn’t exist and not managing it at all.

Teach Your Supervisors About Generational Differences

One of the most important abilities good leaders possess is the ability to know what makes their employees “tick,” and much of this is generational in nature. While there is a wealth of knowledge online,

one of our favorite resources is the book, Generations, Inc.: From Boomers to Linksters–Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work, written by two generational experts (who happen to be father and daughter). This quick read offers the perspectives of workers of different eras, eliciting practical insights on wrestling with generational issues in the workplace. The more supervisors understand how and why each generation is unique, the easier it will be to manage workplace issues.

Celebrate Similarities

Shift to a post-generational mindset as suggested in another exceptional resource, The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business. As the authors state, “Generational thinking is like the Tower of Babel: it only serves to divide us. Why not focus on the behaviors that can unite us?”  The book is not as much a discussion of Millennials or Generation Z as much as the similarities that reverberate across generations.

Have a Supportive Attitude

Make sure you show your employees, no matter where they fall on the generational spectrum, how much you appreciate the work they do, and how much you appreciate their work as an individual. Appreciation and support go a long way in the workplace, and have a direct effect on your employee engagement initiatives.

Develop a Mentoring Program

Generations have a lot to learn from each other, whether they will admit it or not! Baby Boomers have been at work for quite a long time, and there is incredible value that comes from real world, hands on experience that Millennials can’t ever learn in the classroom. Millennials, on the other hand, have grown up with technology, which has changed everything we know about modern business, and can be a great resource for earlier generations in learning and leveraging new technological tools.

A great way to manage the gap is to facilitate cross-generational learning through a coaching or mentorship program, creating a fair and balanced way for your team members to build stronger interpersonal relationships with their colleagues.

Don’t Ignore Technology and Terminology

Every new generation develops their own ‘in jokes,’ slang, phrases, shortcuts, and clichés, based on their collective experience in our increasingly technical, changing world. The way someone speaks can define who they are, and it’s a helpful way to pick up clues about their individual perspective. The best way to learn about someone is to interact with them on a daily basis. And you might just learn something new, too. LOL

Promote Teamwork and Collaboration

When your team members work together, they create the magic of synergy. By working together collectively, an infinite universe of possibilities opens up. Promote the result of collaboration: that you can accomplish more by working together. Collaboration is exactly what it takes to create ideas that are bigger than one person.

Schedule Office Theme Days

While it may sound trite, this can be an excellent way for your team members to bond and learn about each other through common interests that span generations. Casual Fridays can be boring. Why not have a Sports Team Day or Music Appreciation Day in the office, rotating themes so that every generation is represented. A great idea is to have your team members suggest and vote on themes. It’s as much about education as it is fun, so mix it up!

One Size Does Not Fit All

You already know that each generation has their on collective approach to the workplace, but don’t forget that even team members of the same generation are still individuals with their own work and personal preferences. The biggest mistake a leader can make is to treat everyone in the same exact manner. Tailor your leadership style to suit each team members’ unique personality, taking into account the overarching traits associated with their generation. Much, if not all of this, has to do with understanding how your individual team members’ tick. Find out what motivates them, how they like to communicate, and ho they like to be rewarded. If you approach everyone with the goal of understanding them, you’ll be on the path to success.

Tailor Tasks to Strength

As highlighted in another excellent resource, Strengthfinders 2.0, “all too often, our natural talents go untapped. From the cradle to the cubicle, we devote more time to fixing our shortcomings than to developing our strengths.” Studies show that when we spend time learning and improving in areas we are interested in where we show strength, we get exponentially better. The same studies show that even if we study, practice, and memorize as hard as we can in areas that are not our strengths, while we will improve, we will only improve incrementally. So it makes sense that we want to apply our team’s strengths to the tasks at hand, no matter to what generation they belong.

Get Rid of Unnecessary Processes

Processes and procedures are very effective, but not necessary in every situation. Many times, doing away with outdated routines will propel your organization forward. Individuals across generational lines appreciate when companies do away with unnecessary steps or procedures – just keep in mind each generation, and each individual, has a different tolerance for change, so no matter what, always be sensitive to the change management process.

A Final Word

Managing the different generations at work is education, empowerment, and showing your team members respect. Holding on to old routines, old methodology, and old technology have a tendency to restrain innovation. Creating new ways of doing things, using new ideas and new technology, and involving new and seasoned workers alike, will serve your organization well, bringing higher return on investment, productivity rates, and employee engagement.

There are bound to be times when we stumble or run into roadblocks. Instead of fearing challenges, embrace them using the tips we shared above, and things will run more smoothly. The key to managing the generation gap in the workplace is understanding it exists and understanding how to embrace it.

Want to learn more about how you can effectively embrace the multi-generational workforce and leverage diversity to propel your business forward? Peoplescape can help! Contact us today to get started.