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Mind the Gap! 5 Tips To Bridge The Generation Gap In The Workplace

Some of the biggest challenges business owners face is managing different personalities in the workplace.  It can be difficult to get any two strangers to effectively work with one another.  It can be even more challenging when one of those individuals is a baby boomer and the other is a millennial.   Since many baby boomers are delaying retirement to a later age as more and more millennials enter the workforce, the age of employees in a work environment might range from 18 to 70 years old.

Sometimes generational differences can cause tension in the workplace and create issues.  For instance, millennials may view baby boomers as old-school and unapproachable, while baby boomers may see millennials as lazy, impatient, and unprofessional.  We believe it is important that business owners take advantage of all the valuable strengths and skill sets each generation offers by learning how to bridge the generation gap in the workplace with the following 5 tips.

  1. Create diverse teams to include employees from all generations. Grouping employees of the same generation together creates a complete loss of opportunity for employees of different generations to learn important skills from other generations.  Take advantage of each generation’s different backgrounds and experiences to help teams communicate and problem solve more effectively.

  2. Understand what motivates employees of different generations and how each generation views their role and defines success in the workplace. Since many baby boomers grew up during a time of mostly steady and strong economic growth, they are motivated by the need to have security and place heavy value on productivity.  Baby boomers have often been described as workaholics, driven, and willing to tolerate an imbalance between family and work life.  Many baby boomers are process-oriented and believe that success is achieved by putting in long hours in the office to finish a project, since they entered the workforce in an era when they could not work at home.

Millennials are often working to improve the system and evolve, and they take pride in seeing their work make a difference.  Millennials are often viewed as forward-looking, entrepreneurial, risk-taking, tenacious and multitaskers.  They perceive hard work as the quality of their output and success as the culmination of their growth and experiences.  Millennials don’t necessarily believe success and hard work are the result of spending long hours in the office.  Instead, millennials define success as positive feedback from co-workers and managers.  They want a work-life balance that includes room for self-development and community involvement in addition to family time.  Hence, millennials want things like flex time, job-sharing and an experience that integrates technology to empower them to be productive from anywhere.

  1. Recognize that each generation prefers different means of communication and implement new channels and styles of communication in the workplace to accommodate all generations. Since baby boomers have had to adapt to technology as a result of the popularity of online communication in the workplace, baby boomers tend to favor either face to face communication or phone conversations over email or instant messaging.  On the other hand, millennials grew up with technology and the internet at their fingertips.  Millennials view technology as a necessity (i.e., they bring their smartphones to meetings to take notes or to find information online or via social media apps) whereas older workers may not rely on technology and only utilize their pencil and pad at meetings.  There are many ways to compromise.  For instance, video conferencing can provide baby boomers with the face to face communication they desire and millennials can still participate in meetings even if they are not physically present in the room or office.

  2. Form a mentorship program that includes reverse mentoring. When people work side by side and get to know each other away from other groups, typically their stereotypes fade away and they no longer view one another as they once did.  Providing a channel for baby boomers and millennials to mentor each other and work together can help each generation replace their preconceived notions with the perception of the person as they actually are.

  3. Stage gatherings that include employees of all generations. It is more likely that groups of employees who are closer in age might plan get-togethers out of the office.  It is less likely that the 22 year old who started working at the company 3 months ago is going to ask a 60 year old to lunch or grab coffee.  Managers should be proactive and set up monthly activities or weekly workshops where there is a designated time for employees to get to know one another and create personal relationships with each other.  Hosting a lunch-and-learn session on a topic that no one of any particular age group is very familiar with is another way to help employees improve skills while getting to know each other.  By providing an environment where employees can be vulnerable while learning something new, the group can create common bonds which will carry over into the workplace.


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