It’s no secret that what generation an employee is from dictates their work style and ethic. “Baby Boomers” – born 1945 -1963 – prefer detailed directions and guidance, striving to complete the task as quickly and efficiently as possible as dictated at the outset. They work well in teams, value meetings and look for guidance when necessary.
In contrast, many millennials – born since 1991 – believe that a task naturally evolves and changes along the working timeline and focus more on positive customer interaction and experience rather than expediency of completion. They tend to be more independent, working alone but collaborating on tasks where necessary.
A good business is greater than the sum of its parts, with different generations bringing different experiences and capabilities. Baby Boomers have the edge in overall years of experience, Gen Xers are adaptable due to the fact many of them grew up as “latchkey kids”, and millennials have been utilising technology their entire lives. With varying attitudes to work, as well as varied amounts of experiences, friction can arise between workers of different generations. With
Here are some actionable tips that can help you create a healthy work environment by eliminating generation gaps:
#1. Develop a Mentorship program
Regardless of what they think of their own capabilities, the different generations can learn a lot from each other. Older generations have been working at their jobs for some time, and there’s something that real-world experience in any industry teaches you that no amount of time in a classroom will impart.
Gen Xers and Millennials, on the other hand, have grown up in a world where technology has completely overhauled the way we look at business as a whole. They are used to instant communication and utilising new technology to assist with tasks. While the older generations can take time to learn how to use tech and are incredibly resistant to change when they get used to a way of working, the younger generations will drop a piece of technology in a heartbeat if a better alternative comes along.
Creating a cross-generational mentorship program to allow the different generations to share skills and knowledge not only improves the effectiveness of each individual, it also builds interpersonal relations between colleagues.
#2. Utilise Appropriate Leadership Styles
Different generations have different ideas of what a leader should be. For anyone managing a multi-generational team, a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership will not work. Tailor your management style as appropriate for each staff member’s individual skills, personality and work ethic.
#3. Communication is Key
Communication is important no matter what, but in a multi-generational team this goes double. Open and clear communication prevents details getting lost in translation, avoiding potential conflict between staff members.
This is applicable both in the abstract and the physical. Cubicles and solo offices are great for when someone needs no distractions, but they hinder communication and co-operation. Moving to an open plan layout opens up lines of communications, as well as allowing every staff member to see that every other staff member is pulling their own weight, avoiding potential resentment building up.
#4. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
While individuals working independently is all well and good, but when people work together, a whole new set of possibilities become available. Having more than one viewpoint can be great for problem solving, boosting productivity and time management.
Be careful not to overload a task with unnecessary employees however, as this can lead to too many voices in the dialogue. If done right, collaboration between workers from different generations will allow them to learn and grow as professionals.
#5. Know What Your Employees Respond To
Each generation has their preferred method of feedback. Older generations prefer formality: a memo, e-mail or personal conversation. They look to complete a task before receiving feedback and working on any corrections. Younger generations have grown up with near-instant communication, and expect a running conversation through any project. They prefer to highlight any issues or raise any queries as soon as they are discovered, and will expect a similar response time. Altering the feedback styles in a mixed team can be difficult, but if done correctly will make everyone feel valued.
#6. Recognise the Different Motivations
It is fair to say that the different generations have different approaches and reasons for working. The baby boomers tend to live to work, while the younger generations work to live. This means that different employees may expect different rewards, or work/life balances. For instance, a baby boomer may work overtime to meet a deadline, but will expect rewards equal to the extra hours put in. Millennials are less enthusiastic towards over time hours, preferring to work only their contracted hours, but recognise that this produces less additional rewards.
#7. Keep Reasonable Expectations
It is perfectly acceptable to keep expectations of your staff. It is not acceptable to keep unreasonable expectations; a 26-year-old millennial cannot analyse a situation with the experience of a 20-year veteran, and baby boomers will rarely be at home with learning how to utilise new technology and communication tools.
When outlining expectations for a project, always consider the generation gap at the workplace. This will give you an idea of whether you are asking too much of any one employee and whether you have assigned tasks to the appropriate employees. Remaining reasonable in expectations will give a better chance of success.
Dealing with generation gap in work forces can be strenuous at times but with the proper attitude and a little consideration, a mixed-generation workforce should produce better results than a single generation workforce. No matter how hard you try, you will run into scenarios where the generation gap will have an impact on productivity. These scenarios should not be feared; rather, they should be embraced as a learning opportunity.