Generation Gap in the Workplace

Walk into any office and you’ll most likely find a mix of generations, from Baby Boomers to Generation Xers to Millennials. While these groups all offer valuable skill sets and strengths, their distinct differences can affect the workplace.

Millennials now comprise the largest share of the U.S. workforce, surpassing Baby Boomers and edging out Gen Xers, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s more than 53 million Millennials in the workplace as of 2015.

Who’s Who? Generations Defined by Birth Year

  • Baby Boomers: Born between 1946-1964
  • Generation X: Born between 1965-1980
  • Millennials (or Generation Y): Born between 1981-1997

How Do Generational Differences Affect the Workplace?

Consider that more than one-third of professionals spend 12 percent of their work week dealing with intergenerational conflict, which affects productivity and the bottom line.

Each generation applies their differing worldviews, values, and motivators at work. They have distinct ways of communicating, using technology, and collaborating. These generational differences can create workplace discord, making teamwork and collaboration difficult. What’s socially unacceptable to older employees may be commonplace among Millennials.

In order to harness strengths and encourage open communication and team work, employers need to understand each generation and learn how those gaps can be bridged to create a thriving and healthy work environment.

Technology and Communication

While Baby Boomers have learned to use technology to keep current in the workplace and stay in touch with their kids and grandchildren, most Gen X employees have embraced smartphones, tablets, and social media. They’ve also spent a large part of their lives using the Internet.

Millennials, however, the most tech savvy of the three, grew up on these technologies and see them as a way of life. As soon as a new technology is available, they’re itching to get their hands on it. They’re on the latest social media outlets, seamlessly shifting from one to the next, while more seasoned employees may be reluctant or slower to embrace constantly changing technologies and forms of communication.

Bridge Generation Gaps and Create Open Lines of Communication

With multiple generations and their varying worldviews, motivators, and values under one roof, you may wonder how anyone is supposed to get any work done! Follow these guidelines to create workplace harmony and maximize productivity. 

  • Understand where your employees are coming from—what motivates them, what they value, how they see their roles in the workplace. For example, Baby Boomers place heavy value on productivity while Millennials take pride in making a difference.
  • Create intergenerational teams and hold monthly off-site social activities, which give employees opportunities to talk about work, leadership, and their lives. Enriched relationships outside of the office lead to greater understanding and communication.
  • Consider adopting a coaching model, a growing workplace trend. Coaching helps employees by asking powerful questions to help others reach their fullest potential. Coaching employees helps with sharing perspectives and unites employees.
  • Pair each employee with a member of the previous generation (a Baby Boomer with a Gen Xer, a Gen Xer with a Millennial) to form a “trickle down” coaching network, setting up younger employees to lead successfully and become independent thinkers.
  • Clearly define company guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable ways to communicate. For example, millennials likely expect after-work messages to come through texts or social media while Baby Boomers may prefer phone calls.

Organizational development services from Mazzitti and Sullivan EAP can help your company improve communication and team dynamics through various training programs, customizable OD surveys, and more. Contact us to learn more about our wide range of Compass services!