How to deal with generational gaps in the workplace

How to deal with generational gaps in the workplace

Did you know that there can be up to five different generations in any given workplace? The players in your workplace could include:

  • Traditionalists (born before 1946)
  • Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
  • Generation X (1965-1976)
  • Millennials/Generation Y (1977-1997)
  • Generation Z (after 1997)

These vast generation gaps present both challenges and advantages. One one hand, when you have a 20-year-old working next to a 60-year-old, the desired project outcomes, skill sets, and expectations can be drastically different. On the other hand, these varied skill sets, knowledge, and views can be greatly beneficial to company culture and growth.

But how do you help everyone work together in a respectful manner, putting their individual strengths to good use?

Don’t dwell on stereotypes

Every generation is plagued by stereotypes. That’s why it’s important to remember that each team member you work with is an individual with different work habits. It’s always a good idea to educate yourself on how to work with a variety of different people, but try not to get too caught up with stereotypes — people are more complicated than that.

It takes a conscious effort to distinguish your own talents and not let preconceived notions do that for you. Workers need to match their vision of success with the work ethic that it will take to get there — meaning a willingness to go beyond what’s expected.

Rich Milgrim, CEO of Career Network Beyond.com

Instead of focusing on differences, look for commonalities among members of your team that can bring you all together for the bigger picture.

Encourage mentorship activities

If each generation seems to be sticking together, but separate from other generations, encourage partnering and mentorship.

Facilitate mentoring between different aged employees to encourage more cross-generational interaction. Younger employees should learn to seek the experience and wisdom offered by senior employees. Older employees should learn to be open to the fresh perspectives offered by younger employees.

two men, one older and one younger, working together

Brainstorm some ways to get everyone working together towards a common goal. Look for opportunities to exploit each team member’s strengths by getting them involved in helping others in their area of expertise.

Present flexible options

Look more at the outcomes you want your team to achieve than how they are achieved. Allow each member to fulfill their part of a project in the way that works best for them (within reason, of course!). Emphasize that it’s the outcome you’re looking for, not the path of arrival.

This requires each team member taking some responsibility while also offering more flexibility. People have different optimal working styles in the same way they may have different learning styles. You could allow telecommuting one or two days a week, for instance. This will give team members that opportunity to vary their environment and schedule if they desire.

Each company needs to structure their flexible work policies to fit their overall needs and goals, but every company can benefit from family-friendly policies and work-life benefits!

Sara Sutton Fell, Founder of FlexJobs

Provide training and education

Making a variety of training topics available, along with career advice, can go a long way in keeping employees of all ages engaged. This can help newer and possibly younger employees get up to speed and those from earlier generations continue to learn and grow, as well.

woman giving a presentation

This shows that you care about investing in not only the company, but also every team member. Workplace education programs can help identify and address weaknesses while improving performance. A win-win for everyone.

Encouraging career planning for those with a number of years ahead, and retirement planning for those getting ready for it will help to engage people in the here and now, and the long-term possibilities. People tend to work harder to achieve the organization’s goals if they understand how it leads them on a path to their professional goals.

Clear communication using a variety of communication styles, seeking the commonalities while respecting the differences, and offering support to all will go a long way in managing multiple generations and managing them well. Generational differences are just one challenge of diverse teams. It can take some patience and forward thinking to work with such a vast range of generational ideals, but the effort is worth it.

We all have much to learn from one another. If we foster respect, relationships, and truly listen, the needed adjustments can be made for workplace harmony. Leaders in the know will realize that it’s the combined efforts of all that make everything work in the day to day and bring projects to completion. Continued growth is what makes a company great.

Do you have any tips on how to create a work environment that is inspiring and inviting for everyone? Subscribe to Café Quill and follow us on social media to join in on the conversation!