The global workforce is evolving and now includes four generations of workers. Baby boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z work together on teams and face new and unique challenges. Those challenges can include differences in technology, experience, communication, workplace culture and more. Learn about how to address and overcome generation gaps at work.
Generation Gaps in Technology and Innovation
An employee’s comfort level with technology can influence how they perform their job duties. If your team is not on the same page it could limit innovation, lower performance and lead to frustration.
|📝 Tip #1: Provide Training Opportunities|
Make technology training available to all employees. This will help level the playing field and ensure that everyone on your team is keeping up with important changes.
If older employees are resistant to adopting new software or technology because they lack experience with it, training can help bring them up to speed. While younger employees may be more familiar with new communication technologies (like video calling, work chat, and social media) there are plenty of other systems that require training regardless of age.
Generation Gaps in Hierarchies and Experience
In today’s workforce, senior team members are sometimes but not always older and more experienced than their subordinates. It is not impossible or uncommon for someone to advance quickly and oversee team members who are older than they are.
Whether you are at the bottom or the top, one thing is certain: everyone wants to feel like their voice is valued. It’s important to make sure everyone on your team feels heard, regardless of pay grade, age, or experience.
Successful companies understand that anyone on a team can have ideas that can improve the business. Everyone’s ideas should be valued and great ideas should be rewarded.
|📝 Tip #2: Remove the Hierarchy of Ideas With A “Best Idea Wins” Policy|
Adopting a “best idea wins” policy encourages employees at all levels within an organization to share their ideas. In order for the policy to work, it’s important to create opportunities for employees to speak up, like a company-wide messaging channel or dedicated time during meetings.
A “best idea wins” policy is great for encouraging innovation, but may not help a team that has difficulty communicating or working together on a daily basis. When things go wrong it is sometimes because employees in different generations feel misunderstood by their colleagues. Mentorship can help bring team members closer together and forge professional relationships that improve communication, foster empathy, and lead to understanding.
|📝 Tip #3: Encourage Mentorship|
Create “professional friendship” opportunities by pairing employees from different generations together. Both traditional mentorships and reverse mentorships can help bridge the age gap.
Mentoring programs pair together employees of different levels within a company. They typically involve pairing an older, more experienced employee with a younger one.
Reverse mentoring, a term coined by General Electric’s former CEO Jack Welch, is a successful derivative where the mentor and mentee roles are obscured in favor of forging “professional friendships” in which both team members are encouraged to learn from each other regardless of age, experience or seniority.
The approach you choose will depend on your team and what they hope to gain from the mentoring experience.
Generation Gaps in Communication
Differences in communication between generations are not limited to preferred technologies. In addition, age gaps can lead to differences in the way each generation gives and receives feedback.
Boomers (1946-1964) tend to be goal-oriented and prefer formal feedback that is structured as a growth opportunity. They prefer “performance reviews” to continuous feedback. In the absence of feedback, they are likely to assume the worst because they experienced negative reinforcement in formative years.
Generation X (1965 -1976) loves to multitask and thrives in a casual work environment that is team-oriented. They are career-oriented and view skill development as a pathway to advancement. They expect their employers to give them the resources they need to succeed. They like getting feedback that is informal and tolerate blunt or direct comments as long as they are relevant and specific.
Millennials (1977-1997) value continuous feedback, especially if it’s positive. They thrive under superiors who coach, mentor, and train them rather than those who dominate and discipline. Negative reinforcement rarely works with this group. Though they may have experienced it as children, shifting attitudes encouraged them to reject that type of rearing in lieu of more positive approaches.
Generation Z (1998-2010) is confident and not afraid to question authority. They may see feedback as an opportunity for discussion rather than a one-sided exchange but mean no disrespect when they question their superiors. Rather, they thrive on frequent communication and want to understand their manager’s motives and reasoning.
|📝 Tip #4: Create Adaptive Feedback Protocols|
Feedback protocols can take the guesswork out of communicating and help set behavioral standards that make everyone feel safe giving and receiving feedback.
Both managers and employers should expect to make adjustments in the workplace to meet established protocols that improve communication and feedback.
Protocols can ensure that managers listen to their employee’s needs and tailor feedback to the individual receiving it. They can also help employees know exactly what is expected of them during a feedback session. As well as appropriate and approved ways to respond.
Regardless of rank, everyone should commit to using language that is constructive, positive, and respectful.
Generation Gaps in Cultural Attitudes and Biases
When it comes to company culture, different generations have their own values and expectations. Cultural attitudes can affect how employees in different generations view dress codes, race, sexuality, gender, and more.
For example, different generations can have biases about what constitutes appropriate work attire or what kind of jokes are acceptable in the workplace.
Cultural attitudes can affect how we view:
- Work-appropriate attire
- Tattoos and piercings
- Work-appropriate jokes
- Sexuality and gender expression (including pronouns)
- Gender roles
|📝 Tip #5: Establish Culture Policies that Make Everyone Feel Included|
As cultural viewpoints evolve, companies should create policies that ensure employees feel safe and included. Harmful attitudes, stereotypes, and biases should not be tolerated.
We are Better When We Work Together
Every generation has its own unique set of experiences, skills, preferences, and values. Having a multi-generational workforce should be viewed as a strength, not a weakness. When it comes to bridging the gap between generations employers should act as intermediaries who facilitate communication and understanding. When companies update outdated policies and focus on uniting their workforce, regardless of age, they create a team that is stronger together.