Managers: Bridging the Generation Gap
There's a struggle going on in today's workplace. Not a struggle for power; but a struggle between colleagues with significant age differences-sometimes as much as 30 or 40 years. Though all of us understand the concept that a large age difference almost always results in some form of a generation gap, the question is why this problem's so prevalent in our current society? What makes younger workers so different from older ones?
Baby Boomers and Generation X Versus Generation Y
In the Huffington Post, Randy Hain divides workers into two camps: Baby Boomers and Generation X versus Generation Y. According to Hain, Baby Boomers-people who were born in the fifteen years following World War II-and Generation X-those born between 1965 and 1982-are motivated by the growth and expansion of their companies, as well as increasing revenue and helping employees develop. In addition, many are accustomed to working in teams and functioning in a hierarchical environment. In contrast, Generation Y-people born between 1982 and the early 2000s, also referred to as Millenials-want to be aligned with their organisations' missions, value transparency and desire a good balance between their professional and personal lives. Many prefer to work independently, and though they appreciate ranking and experience, are confident in their expertise and don't necessarily feel that experience trumps youth.
Sadly, these differences often result in poor communication between colleagues and an inability to see eye-to-eye. Add to that a mutual lack of social and technological frames of reference, and it's easy to see why bringing the two camps together can lead to frustration and even conflict.
In addition, over the last decade the traditional age hierarchy in which managers were older than their workers has changed dramatically. In fact, according to a 2011 survey by Pitney Bowes, approximately 20% of interviewed midlevel corporate workers report to a bosswho is younger than themselves. And since many workers are continuing to work longer, this trend is going to continue.
What Managers Can Do
If you're a manager racking your brain to bridge the generation gap, the following suggestions can be a good place to start.
Gain an understanding of the different frames of reference. Older generations have years of experience and have seen social and economic climates change and affect the marketplace. Younger generations need to understand that experience should always be taken into account. Simultaneously, older generations should acknowledge that Generation Y workers communicate through devices and social media. They understand the ins and outs of the Internet in a way their elders rarely do. Tapping into both decades of experience and knowledge of current social communications and marketplaces can, when approached properly, be a winning combination.
Recognise the value of each individual, regardless of age. Workers can't just be defined by their ages. Make sure you always keep in mind what value each individual brings to both the team and your company.
When possible, tailor work processes to the preference of each worker. Note how people of different ages prefer to work and when possible, enable them to do so. Though it's not always possible in a team setting, it can be beneficial to outline exactly what older workers need to do and pair them up with colleagues, while letting younger workers pursue their individual assignments before putting all the parts of a project together.
Encourage your workers to acknowledge each other's value. When age differences cause resentment or conflict between workers, it can be helpful to take each worker aside to discuss the matter. Explaining how each worker brings value to the team and complements other team members is a good way to reduce resentment.
Ask for feedback. Whether you feel confident you're doing a good job at bridging the gap or you think you're failing miserably, remember that your team can tell you how they want to be treated. Ask them for feedback and when relevant, tweak your approach.
Be patient. This may go without saying, but it's important to note. Some employees will take longer to come around than others, so give them time. If any employee is unable to make a job related adjustment, consider sending him or her to a professional development course that addresses the topic or issue.
Remember you're the boss. Ultimately, no matter how your team feels about their colleagues, you're the one who makes the call. If you're unable to accommodate everybody's work preferences on a project, your team has to respect your decision.
Bridging the generation gap can seem impossible. But by implementing the above tips, you can help your team utilise their strengths, including age related experience, in order to maximise results. So stay with it, and don't let generation labels throw you off. If age is but a number, do the math and use it to your benefit.