Getting different generations to work together

Published September 5, 2018

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I recently purchased a business and my team is very multi-generational. Each generation has a different way of working, and different expectations. Any ideas for how I can better deal with these challenges?

Great question, and one we’re hearing a lot from our clients. We reached out to our Human Resources consulting team within our firm to get their perspective and understand what they are telling our clients who have similar situations.

There has been significant research and discussion around how work styles differ between the generations currently active in our workforce. Organizational psychologists, as well as human resources experts, frequently demonstrate that inter-generational workforces can struggle with everything from communication and soft skills to work ethic and values. These challenges need to be not only recognized but controlled to attain harmony and efficiency. However, even though it might bring its challenges, generational breadth in the office offers the chance to utilize greater depths of knowledge and experience as well as extra energy and zest.

Generational traits

Each generation comes with contrasting stereotypes that should be acknowledged.

Traditionalists (born before 1946)

Traditionalists are loyal, and believe firmly in the “chain of command.” They will typically adhere to rules, discipline, a hard work ethic and will trust those around them. They feel rewarded by a job well done.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)

Baby Boomers are usually optimistic, with a belief in “change in command.” That means they are intent on fixing what’s wrong, and will question the status quo and push for change. They also believe in equal rights, involvement and personal gratification. They are rewarded by money and recognition, but can be out of touch with modern technology.

Gen X (born 1965 – 1980)

Growing up with new media, members of the Gen X generation are inclined to be skeptical. They are also resourceful and independent, and eager for self-command. They believe in balance and diversity, but lack a strong sense of loyalty to an organization and instead share a global mindset. They are rewarded by the freedom to operate independently.

Millennials (born 1981-2000)

While the generation that invented the “selfie” is often seen as the “me, me, me generation,” they bring a lot to the table. They are realistic, pragmatic and confident. They appreciate and expect diversity. They have often been included in family decisions since they were young and bring this quality to work. They believe in collaboration, not command, and feel fulfilled by a meaningful career.

It is obvious that each generation is motivated by different beliefs, desires, skillset values, expectations and motivations. The question workplace leaders should be asking is: Are we using these stereotypes to our advantage, or simply rolling our eyes and becoming frustrated? If it’s the latter, you may be assisting in the hindrance of productivity, limiting contributions and potentially demoralizing your team.

Once we are able to understand what the various differences are and agree that we should all work together toward a common goal, then we can create a game plan to make that goal attainable.

Bridging the divide

Communication is key when it comes to intergenerational harmony and bridging the age divide. The traditionalists like to have their value acknowledged, with appreciation expressed for a job well done. Baby boomers like to be looked to for their opinions. For Gen Xers, concise, results-oriented communication will typically get the job done. Millennials need regular communication and feedback, and they need to understand the reasons behind adjustments.

Ultimately, flexibility and understanding are critical to workplace harmony regardless of how diverse it is. A willingness to give people the opportunity to be successful working in the ways they prefer, and rewarding them for what they achieve, will go a long way.

People every day are questioning whether the age gap can be overcome. But while it’s a cliché, in a way, age really is just a number. We can all learn from, and with, one another. Every generation makes its mark on the world, and every generation is influenced by the world they grow up in, which will always be different. Employers should focus on appealing to a variety of generations simultaneously for long-term success.

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