Bridging the Gap Between Generations in the Workplace

Last updated: August 19, 2021

In the past, the gap between generations in the workplace 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. 

There is a lot of stereotyping around different generations. Although many of these stereotypes hold true, they are not absolutes. There are baby boomers who are masters of technology and some millennials who struggle find it a struggle. We will cover some generalities across the groups, but never forget the many shades of gray that lie within them.

Generations in the Workplace

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 1922-1945)
  2. Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
  3. Generation X (born 1965-1980)
  4. Generation Y or Millennials (born 1981-1996)
  5. Generation Z or Post-Millennials (born 1997–2012)
  6. Generation Alpha (born 2013-2025)

man on phone leaving over a balconyCommunication 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.

All of the generations include a mix of introverts, extroverts, and ambiverts, but their communication style is usually based on what they are most familiar with. If you leave a voicemail for Gen X or younger, they likely won’t listen to it. Try a text instead.

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.

6yo girl with blonde hair in front of tablet during virtual learningIt will be interesting to see if Gen Alpha is able to adapt more than previous generations. With Covid, they have been in school, experienced lockdown, been to virtual school, lost loved ones, worn masks, removed them, and put them back on again. They will be interesting to follow into adulthood.

Learning

In the past, Baby Boomers and Generation X preferred traditional face-to-face instructor-led courses. Younger generations favored technology-oriented methods, such as e-learning. With everything going virtual the past two years, it has forced everyone to become familiar with new technology as a means to work and communicate. The gap in how people prefer to learn is much smaller than it used to be.

person's hand on a computer while holding smart phone in other handUse of Technology

Generation Z is very much into process automation apps. Millennials are masters at technology but focus more on the hardware. Generation X and Baby Boomers learned technology only as adults and are less obsessed with it…most of the time at least.

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. They really value a flexible schedule as they may be caring for children and older parents. Millennials had a full, busy schedule while growing up and find the most answers using technology. Generation Z is constantly connected to others and enjoys 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. More recent generations care about working conditions, compensation, safety, 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 the Generational Gap 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. Yes, some stereotypes hold true, but if you get to know your colleagues, you are likely to debunk a few of those pre-conceived notions you may have had.

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 (when COVID is not surging)

Shakeup 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.

 

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