How to bridge the office generation gap

How to bridge the office generation gap

Picture the scenario; an office veteran with 20 years in the industry, and an energetic millennial working right alongside him. Things aren’t melding well. The young gun wishes the vet would stop clinging to his ‘old’ ideas; and the old guy thinks his coworker is a know-it-all who lacks discipline and focus. Generation gaps can be a source of conflict and may result in poor productivity and obstacles toward personal growth.

Communicate on how you plan to achieve a goal

Research has shown that different approaches of work among varying age groups are a source of workplace rifts.  Veterans (born before 1946) are disciplined and respect authority. Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) are hardworking and assertive. Members of Generation X (1965-1981) are self-reliant and suspicious. The Millennials (born between 1982 and 1997) are fast thinkers and ambitious learners. To get on the same page, it’s vital to talk to your colleagues on how you plan to achieve a goal. Communication is a two way street. It’s not preaching down to others. Be ready to welcome different opinions and don’t leave anyone out. This can be achieved through mentorship programs. In such a setting, it’s easy to communicate project goals and keep everyone involved. According to a study reported in the Diversity Journal, workers across all generation groups believe a mentoring program would be beneficial.  A younger worker (Millennial) may be paired up with a Veteran. The senior employee could be the mentee and the junior worker acts as a mentor. The younger employee could teach the senior employee the power of technology in driving business results. The Veteran or Baby Boomer can capitalize on his experience by offering insightful advice on institutional knowledge. At the same time, it’s vital for the Millennials who are fast thinkers and well versed with technology to respect the Veterans who are very knowledgeable even though they may be slow on tech trends. Such cross-generational mentorship programs build stronger interpersonal relationships and dissolve communication barriers.

Check your attitude

Try not to assume people act in a particular manner because of their age. It’s all about your attitude. If you show a lack of interest/respect when colleagues who are younger than you offer advice, this may heighten tension. This could be worse if you’re threatened by a younger superior.  Be willing to learn from people of various ages – any colleague can be a resource of information.  Millennials are known to think outside the box. As a Baby Boomer, instead of shunning this characteristic, celebrate and encourage it, as could result in an innovative solution. Go to the office each day with an open mind. The younger generation should give personal attention to the older generation by seeking advice. And, they should be ready to offer technology support instead of judging older colleagues for lack of knowledge.

Know how to deal with conflicts proactively

The office can be full of eye rolling when co-workers vent out frustrations in the wrong manner. Don’t rush to criticism or finger pointing when work isn’t done the way you expected.  Be specific and calm when telling a coworker your issues. Instead of going into an argument with emotions, it’s wise to first understand the mindset of the other person and see matters from their perspective. Let your manner of speech show that you have the best intention. Remember it’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Identify the generations’ expectations

Conflict in the workplace often arises when there are differences in core values and life experiences among different age groups. Understanding what each of these generation groups expects at work is a stepping stone in minimizing misunderstandings. Veterans believe in rules, chain of command and respect. Baby Boomers grew up at a time when people struggled for job promotions and as such are competitive and motivated by challenge. However, they appreciate ethics and enjoy personal relationships. Generation X’ers tends to be skeptical and self-protective. They appreciate work/life balance. The Millennials are tech savvy, social and demand flexibility. The best way for different generations to understand these diverse expectations is to spend more time with a colleague or interact with them daily. This could be physically or through social media platforms. Workers from different generations get to talk about their interests, concerns or just office issues.

Adopt different ways of communication

Many Boomers and Millennials have clashing views of communication. It would be impractical, if not rigid, to assume that every form of communication must be through email or face-to-face. When you happen to have a younger boss, it’s advisable to step out of your comfort zone and adapt other forms of communication like Facebook, instant messaging or Skype. In reality, bridging communication gaps requires both parties meeting halfway. If the Veteran employee prefers phone calls and the Generation X worker prefers texting, the younger worker can compromise over email. If the Baby Boomer prefers in-person meetings and the Millennials can work from home some days of the week, they can arrange for a Web conference meeting.  It gets easier to communicate with people across all age groups if you’re flexible.


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