As the workplace gradually swells with employees from every generation, phrases such as these illustrate the tension which exists in ever increasing amounts. Up to five generations must now coexist within the same organizations and teams: the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomer Generation, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. Karen Higginbottom of Forbes points out, “We’re now facing a workplace where in theory, many employers could have employees ranging from 18 to 80 in the workplace.” It is no wonder that there would be a bit of a disparity in work methods, management approaches, and communication styles in this type of environment.
In order for multigenerational teams to remain productive, their differences must be acknowledged and appreciated, respect must remain prevalent on all sides, and solutions must be drawn up in order to deal with common stereotypes. Addressing misunderstandings and removing labels is the first step in breaking down these generational barriers and forging links of communication on all sides.
Younger generations have been born with technology at their fingertips and have gained a literacy that some older generations struggle with. They understand how to use social media within a proper context, communicate quickly, and can reach out to modern markets because of their efficiency. Rather than seeing Millennials as inferior because of their technology use, older generations should appreciate their useful skills and ability to “adapt and suggest new technologies in the corporate world” (“Understanding the 4 Stereotypes about Millennial Employees”). On the other hand, older generations have quality experiences that can be useful for media content. When Millennials are patient enough to listen and talk with the older generations, they can gain a wealth of knowledge that translates into interesting, worthwhile coverage. Just as Millennials would like older generations to respect their new media trends, older generations simply want youngsters to learn from their own experiences.
It is no secret that Baby Boomers and Millennials are on entirely different planes when it comes to the communication of information. Take training, for example. Higginbottom noted that “Generation X and Millennials placed greater emphasis on development generally and preferred to learn independently often using computer-based training or the Internet.” Meanwhile, “Baby Boomers and Veterans preferred more traditional classroom or paper-based training.” This could be a considerable problem for day-to-day communication, as younger generations rely on technology for quick and easy communication. Older generations, on the other hand, do not feel quite as comfortable with technology and prefer in-person teaching. Management must discover a way in which to communicate clear expectations and strategic goals to both groups, thereby fostering accountability and personal accomplishments and each. It would be unfair to expect Baby Boomers to become motivated through Internet modules, just as it would be unfair to expect Millennials to sit through pencil-and-paper training. Reaching out to both groups, as well as fostering relationships between groups, will create the greatest results.
The fast-paced, innovative, independent mind of a Millennial benefits an employer just as much as the steady, hardworking, experienced mind of a Baby Boomer. In order to foster relationships between Millennials, Baby Boomers, and Generation X, each individual must be willing to set aside preconceived notions long enough to have a conversation. Determine the drivers of another person, the way in which he/she communicates, or the life experiences that determined his or her life track. Get to know his or her view of the world, why he or she behaves a certain way, and perhaps even learn something from that individual. Most of all, it is important to understand that there are intra-generation differences, as well. Every Millennial will not be the same, and every Baby Boomer will not be the same. Just as there are differences between generations, there are differences within generations.
What steps will you take to foster intergenerational relations in your organization this year?