Generational Differences In the Workplace
From Baby Boomers to GenY'ers, a contentious mix of generations can create job-site tensions as well as opportunities.
Its not uncommon these daysforthree distinct generations ofemployeesto rubelbowson job sites: Baby Boomers(born from 1948 to 1963), GenXers (1964 to 1978) andGen Yers (also known as millennials,1979 to 1991). As if this unprecedented mix of agegroups isnt enough, the next cohort already dubbed GenerationZ is preparing toenterthe workforce, too.
The upshot of this mosh pit ofgenerationsisverydisparate views on communication styles, worksiteprotocols, life/work balance, best-managementpractices and a host of other issues fraught with potential for tension andmisunderstandings.Someworkersstillfavorold-fashionedface-to-face meetingsto communicatewhile othersprefer texts, for example. Older workersusuallyprefer followingwell-established chain-of-commandhierarchieswhile younger ones have no problem withbypassing a foreman and going right to the topfor help. In other cases, younger employees want the kinds of perks like flexible work schedules and quick promotions that older workers earnedonlyafter years on the job,whichcanbreed resentment and itsclosecousin, jealousy.
In addition,general stereotypescommonlyheld by each of these cohorts millennials are self-entitledand technology-obsessed, for instance, whileBoomers are stubbornly resistant to change and unwilling to learn new things addeven more fuel to the fire.As such, its no wonder that foremen and job supervisorsthese days often feel liketheyre building the Tower of Babel instead of a house, strugglingtocalmall of theseconflictinglanguages (perceptions, miscommunicationsand work styles)and get everyone workingtogethertowardcommon goals.
A lot of companies and organizations are struggling with this, saysDana Brownlee, the owner of Professionalism Matters(www.professionalismmatters.com),a consulting firm. Its all about different perspectives and paradigms that tend to create disconnects.
So,isfixing thesegeneration gaps mission impossible? Not at all, saysBrownlee, who has more than 20 years oftraining experience.
The main thing I suggest is dont hide from it dont pretend that these issues dont exist, she explains. You need to get things out in the open and talkabout themgive each group opportunities to shine. Proactively talk abouttheirdifferencesso theyre not hidden away,and people only whisper about themduring coffee breaks.
Onekey to breaking down barriers is understandingthe differences betweenthedifferent generations of workers. Take communication preferences, for example.Truth be told, the more efficient a method of communication is (texting for example), the less effective it can be.
A text oremail, for instance,is fast, but itcan sound blunt even though the sender didnt intend to be blunt,says Brownlee. And conversely, the more effective the mode of communication, the less efficient it is(such as more time-consuming face-to-face meetings), though the contentgenerallyis richer, she notes.
Furthermore, youngertradesmenwho arent used to verbal communicationmight viewa visit from aforemanfor a face-to-face talk as an escalationof an issue,when in fact its justthe managerspreferred method of communicating.Nonetheless, since people typically default to their preferred method of communicating, it helps to understand not onlywhatcommunication methodstheyprefer, butwhythey prefer them.That creates context, which helps avoid misunderstandings, she notes.
Relationship-building also is important because weak relationships promote weak communication. To foster such relationships,foremen and supervisorsshould proactively break up cliques and put employees from different generations on the same teams, starting with non-work-related projects,likea team lunch.
If you promote relationships between people who dont normally interact, they develop a more comfortable cocoon where they can ask questions and be more honest about things, Brownlee points out. Then the barriersstart tocome down.
Its also important for employees to fully understand the unspoken expectations and protocolsthat make upthe corporate cultures in which they work. That could include everything from never talking to yoursupervisors boss about problems until youve first spoken to yoursupe,toavoiding the use ofall capital letters or exclamation points in emails, which can create the wrong impression.
For older employees,job trainingcan ease fears and anxiety about new technologies and ideas. Thats helpful in instances where theres a generationaldivide in howemployeeswork toachieve the same goal.
Theres a good chance the older employees will shut down because theyre now moving into a space where they no longer feel comfortable, she observes. That can be a big deala huge barrier.
But in the end, a multi-generationaljob sitedoesntalwayshave to bea hotbed of dissent. In fact, diverse perspectives and viewpointscanforgestrongeremployee bonds.
Sure, its easier to manage a homogenous group, Brownlee explains. But that doesnt mean youll get the bestresults. Youre always better off with a more diverse team working on projectit just requires more communication and a more proactive approach to ensure everyone can work together harmoniously.
Furthermore, older employees can provide younger, less-experienced employees with valuable perspectives and insights. Conversely, younger employees can help older workers feel more comfortable with new technologies and ideas.
Theres tons of information to share on either end of the generational spectrum, Brownlee says.In most cases, diversityisa great thing.