Bridging the Generational Divide at Work

By Amanda C (Contributor)
Edited by Ali Reza

Have you seen any of the innumerable articles online about how to deal with “millennials” in the workplace? There must be another half dozen of them every day. The sheer number of these articles points to a basic, significant characteristic of today’s workplace: That even though one generation is always on the way out while another is on the way in, the modern workplace has an historically unique hodgepodge of generations, with Boomers and Gen Xers and the Millennial crowd all trying to work toward common professional goals despite major personal differences.

At its best, this generational diversity can animate and enliven a professional team. Older members of the workforce impart wisdom and experience to younger ones, while the younger set brings energy, enthusiasm, and fresh ideas.

But of course, members of different generations do not always get along this way—despite some truly valiant efforts. Different members of the workforce bring their own values, perspectives, and expectations to the workplace—and while they may try to connect and to get along, their efforts may not always bear fruit.

Perhaps your business has generational conflict, and you’d like to be the leader who pushes the entire team toward greater empathy and collaboration. For those with a genuine interest in bridging the generational gap at work, there are a few considerations that might deliver results, or at least pave the way toward greater understanding.

  • Remember what all employees want, regardless of their generation—and that’s to be recognized and affirmed for their work. For all the articles out there about how older and younger workers differ, all employees bring a basic need to the workplace, and that’s the need to feel like they are important and appreciated. Even when you give some tasks to older workers and different tasks to younger workers, then, make sure you are clear in communicating what each person brings to the project, and why it matters.
  • Try creating a mentorship program in your workplace. Older employees have experience and insight from which younger workers can benefit; as they impart their wisdom, they may find themselves encouraged and reinvigorated by youthful energy and by new ideas. You can foster all of this, very formally and officially, by starting a mentorship program at work, and allowing members of different generations to bond one on one.
  • Note that different generations bring different assets to the workplace—beyond their resume accomplishments and their formal skills. In particular, younger employees will bring enthusiasm to what could otherwise be a jaded and complacent workforce. Take advantage of this, and as you hire and form teams, try to harness the power of different attitudes.
  • Acknowledge that conflict erupts in all work settings, in particular those with different generations represented. It’s just a fact of life, and trying to avoid conflict from ever happening is an exercise in futility. Rather than pretend like your office is immune, instead try setting up some procedures and policies for dealing with conflict effectively—including some channels for employees to offer candid feedback.
  • Give older employees plenty of opportunities to keep learning. One of the reasons older employees can resent younger ones is that they start to feel obsolete. Don’t let that happen. Instead, provide opportunities for older employees to learn about things like social media and digital marketing. Keep them in the loop, and allow them to sharpen their skills.

Communication, the celebration of differences, opportunities to offer constructive feedback while also seeking avenues of professional improvement—these are the hallmarks of a workplace culture that values all generations, and fosters true unity and collaboration.

But we’ll add one more thing. Always be clear in articulating the goals of your business. Let all members of the team know what they’re working toward, and they’ll be more likely to pitch in and do their part—in whatever way is best suited for them.

 

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