Bridging the Gap Between Generations in the Workplace

In the past, the generational gap in workplaces used to be so large that one generation would retire or be about to do so, before the next even joined the workforce. However, developments in technology have reduced that gap to around ten years.

Moreover, the average employee is getting older, and the labor force is continuing to age. This means that multiple generations—aged anywhere from 18-80 years—coexist in the same workforce. Besides, almost every generation has a few sub-generations.

Different Generations and Their Characteristics

People are categorized into generations depending on when they were born. There are six living generations,of which the first five are part of workforces across the US. All five generations have different viewpoints, expectations, and a great impact on the workplace culture.

  1. Silents/Traditionalists (born 1925-1945)
  2. Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
  3. Generation X (born 1965-1980)
  4. Generation Y or Millennials (born 1981-1994)
  5. Generation Z or Post-Millennials (born 1995–2000)
  6. Generation Alpha (born 2000-2015)

Communication style: While older generations are more reserved, the younger ones enjoy collaborative and personal interactions. Younger employees are comfortable with emails, texts, instant messages and even tweets. Even though older employees use new technologies, they may prefer paperwork and phone calls.

Response to change: Generations X and Y think that change brings new opportunities. Generation Z is used to change and expects it in the workplace. Baby Boomers are cynical about change, as most of them have transitioned from relatively stable workplaces to those much less so.

Learning: Baby Boomers and Generation X prefer traditional face-to-face instructor-led courses. Younger generations favor technology-oriented methods, such as e-learning.

Use of technology: Generation Z and Millennials are masters at technology, who use it beyond traditional work/life boundaries. Generation X and Baby Boomers learned technology only as adults and are less obsessed with it.

Work ethic: Baby Boomers are team-oriented, loyal to employers, and work hard to succeed. Generation X values work/life balance, but wish to get things done. Millennials had a full, busy schedule while growing up and find most answers using technology. Generation Z is constantly connected to others and enjoy work-life integration.

Management preferences: All generations have diverse management preferences because they have dissimilar worldviews and are at different career stages.However, these preferences may not be mutually exclusive.

Negative stereotyping: Older employees may view their younger colleagues as entitled, lazy and apathetic, whereas younger workers may feel that older generations are rigid in their ways.

Motivation: Traditionalists are motivated by status and autonomy. The first annual 2017 Life Sciences Ideal Employer Report by BioSpace showed that more recent generations care about working conditions, compensation, coworkers, and security.

Work-life balance: Traditionalists and baby boomers often work long hours. Generation X focuses on ensuring work-life balance in their lives. Millennials and Gen Z believe that work is a means to support their lifestyle.

Handling Generational Differences in Workplaces

Method-based or ideology-based dissimilarity among generations causes problems in workplaces. The following are some tactics managers can use to ensure that this doesn’t happen:

Avoid stereotypes: Try to understand everyone and eradicate stereotypes.

Find commonalities: All generations like flexible schedules. They all wish their work to make an impact and be well-appreciated. Find such common factors to bring them together.

Go off-site: Shake up usual behavior patterns, routines and associations. Give everyone a chance to mingle in a less formal setting.
Be respectful, flexible and understanding: Different generations have distinct attributes, capabilities and needs. Manage them according to their individual strengths, attitudes and aspirations.

Improve communication: Use a standard, clear communication style. Introduce a variety of tools within the office, ranging from face-to-face meetings to instant messaging.

Leverage the differences between generations: Acknowledge and combine everyone’s philosophies, abilities, and approaches. Emphasize the importance of collaboration. Encourage employees to teach and learn from others. Create employee groups with representatives from all generations and listen to their feedback on various issues.

Although managing employees of different generations can be hard, it is well worth doing so, as multi-generational companies are highly successful in today’s economy.