Regardless of the company, you’re likely to encounter diversity. While some businesses attract various ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, you’re likely to find a mix of age groups in any field. Any office will likely have a mix of generations, from baby boomers to generation Xers to millennials.
The differences between age groups can vary greatly. Whether the differences revolve around communication styles, cultural expectations, language used or beliefs, the impact of generational differences can be vast. While these differences in the workplace can surely cause discord, they can also be used as a venue for learning, compassion, teamwork and collaboration.
Overall, your workplace will be better off if you capitalize on the diversity your colleagues have to offer rather than caving into age-grouped cliques or stereotypes. Here’s how to take advantage of the unique perspectives and attributes of each generation.
Clarifying generational differences
In order to progress in understanding how to manage differences in age groups, it’s pertinent to explain “generational” and where the gaps lie. Generations are often understood through age group categories. While younger generations have their own lingo, we’ll primarily discuss the age groups that compromise the majority of today’s workforce.
Generations defined by birth year
While some individuals born close to the onset of the next generation may sway either way (or exhibit beliefs and characteristics of both), it can be helpful to explain “generational” using a timeline.
Baby boomers: Born between 1946-1964
Generation X: Born between 1965-1980
Millennials (or Generation Y): Born between 1981-1994
In order to better understand the qualities that differentiate each group, it’s important to understand what they’ve lived through and how you might notice the impact of their experiences on their lifestyles and behaviors.
The impact of generational differences in the workplace
Traditionalists, or those born before 1945, are described as the following.
Respectful of authority
It’s likely that these individuals were impacted by the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean War and learned behaviors from a society that valued tradition, thriftiness and stability. While the vast majority of these individuals have retired, it’s likely some of the precedents set in your workplace and our modern economic system were established by this generation.
Traditionalists may not have a large impact on your day-to-day tasks, but the institutions built by this generation are the framework for most of our expectations of work life, from who appears capable of leadership to timeliness standards.
According to the same study, baby boomers have their own unique traits.
Baby boomers are often described as the group that sought career success most diligently. This group of individuals saw a major scientific and social change, with events like the moon landing and Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. They also witnessed President John Kennedy’s Assassination and the Vietnam War.
While baby boomers experienced huge innovative growth within their lifetimes, more than any generation before, not all baby boomers are accustomed to modern technology. Despite life-long adaptability to advances, the ability to learn new software or implement new ideas isn’t as steeped into the personality of baby boomers as it is with younger generations. This is often a source of frustration within work environments.
The study from the American Psychological Association uses the following terms to describe Generation X.
Balances work and personal life
This group of workers saw the Challenger Explosion, the fall of the Berlin wall and Nixon’s resignation. These individuals are often stereotyped as being overly self-reliant. This trait can make them both pleasant to work with, as they tend to self-impose accountability, and are difficult to work with when teamwork is demanded.
Millennials were found to fit the following characteristics.
Desire meaningful work
Diversity and change are valued
Are savvy with technology
Millennials’ strongest memories are often the 9/11 attacks, the Columbine school shooting and the election of Barack Obama. Millennials are often stereotyped as entitled and having unrealistic expectations of work and life. Challenges arise between older generations often when technology is involved and new ideas are proposed. Millennials tend to be the most open to changing long-standing systems and policies.
Managing generational differences within the workplace
Each generation applies its unique worldviews, experiences, values and motivators at work. While these differences can cause discord, they can also be guided so that they become one of a company’s greatest assets. Here are a few tips to balance the impact of generational differences in the workplace.
Understand the background
Using the information above and other resources, knowing where your employees are coming from (such as their motivations, roles and values) impacts their work. For example, baby boomers place heavy value on productivity while millennials take pride in making a difference.
Don’t isolate groups
Individuals naturally tend towards others that are like them for ease of communication and shared values. In order to create true collaboration, ensure that these groups have opportunities to mix and that cliques don’t form.
Encourage different perspectives
The best way to bridge the gap between generations is to allow space for differing perspectives and allow people to explain their reasoning.
Set up intergenerational coaching pairs
By intentionally combining partnerships of different generations, each will have the skill to learn from the other.
Model solid communication
Define expectations for clear and respectful communication. Since age groups tend to expect different norms and language, it’s important to have reasonable standards for methods of communication.
Use and EAP
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 EAP services.