A lot has been said about encouraging diversity at work and helping people of different cultural backgrounds to understand each other. However, there can be just as big a conflict between generations in the workplace now due to the distinct characteristics of various generations.
Generational Workplace Conflict
A 2016 Workplace Trends report notes the significant shifts in workplace demographics. The report states that 3.6 million baby boomers will be retiring soon. Additionally, it projects that one-fourth of millennial workers (those who entered adulthood around the year 2000) will enter managerial roles and Generation Z (those born between 1994 and 2010) is beginning to enter the workforce.
Based on survey responses from 4,066 respondents from around the world, the report found that those in Gen Z are seeking financial rewards, career advancement, motivation and work-life balance from their employers.
While similarly engaged in technology and work, millennials face the crisis of trying to figure out how to take on management roles when they are not necessarily prepared with the right people skills. Older workers are still in the midst of their careers, but face a tough crowd. Their younger colleagues might assume they cannot keep up with the technological changes or become frustrated with what they see as an outdated work style.
When you have a work environment with people who are in their 20s, 30s, 40s and older, there is a wide set of perspectives that can lead to issues that interfere with teamwork. One group may think the other is entitled, cynical and somewhat lazy. The younger generations may look at older colleagues and think that what they are doing is outdated and irrelevant.
But it doesn't have to be that way if you consider these tips that I have found help in closing the generation gaps at work:
1. Find common ground between the generations.
Rather than focusing on how different everyone is, it helps to use the approach that cultural diversity has employed to minimize conflict. There is common ground that can fill in some of those huge generational gaps.
Since you are all working for the same organization, this should be fairly easy. That's because there is a set of goals and objectives established by leadership that all of you have to achieve. By working together toward this end, you may be more likely to accomplish them rather than complaining about each age group.
2. Embrace individual strengths and unique skills.
Rather than perceiving what each group is incapable of doing or doesn't handle the same way, try looking at the strengths and skills that each generation brings to the team. An older worker may have experience and knowledge that can help younger workers who are new to the business environment. Younger workers may have ideas for greater efficiency that an older worker can benefit from.
This can also lead to an almost mentoring relationship if younger and older generations recognize how they can complement each other.
3. Focus on communication and collaboration between generations.
I believe in-person is the best form of communication to use when collaborating on work across generations. This can help minimize misunderstandings and provide the necessary context for what each person means.
However, this is not always possible, especially in today's companies where remote workers are often part of the team. These remote workers can represent all age groups, so it is important to consider differences in styles. For example, workers in their 40s often believe it is important to respond to messages and may see it as rude when a younger worker reads a message but doesn't acknowledge it. The younger worker may not realize it is construed as rude.
This is where each can meet halfway to acknowledge the other's communication style. Older workers can get into the practice of using emojis when it is appropriate, while younger workers can take an extra five seconds to reply with a "thanks!" or "sounds good" type of message.
Collaboration tools can help make working across generations much easier. Project management platforms can create a space where everyone can have input and put those unique skills to work. This can also be a place for communication among team members, reducing confusion and frustration.
4. Learn about each other.
There is plenty of research available on each demographic to better understand their philosophies and approach to working.
I especially recommend reading up on each group for anyone stepping into a management position where they will oversee a team consisting of these different types of workers. Understanding how different generations think can provide a framework for determining how to communicate with boomer employees, while figuring out how to keep Gen Z talent engaged so they remain loyal and productive.
5. Have patience and help where you can.
In a fast-paced work environment where minutes count, it can be challenging to remain patient with a worker who is just learning how to use an online tool or update their technology skills. Rather than getting mad at them, mocking their struggle or just taking over the project, the better approach would be to have patience and work on showing them how to use it.
Consider listening to their struggle and seeing if it is possible to help them overcome it. They most likely are eager to learn and stay current on their technological skills. You can give them kudos for staying in the loop and being open to learning. There are plenty of people who aren't as willing to update their skills.
Read more articles on company culture.