Our workplace environments are dealing with generational issues more than it ever has before.  There are currently four generations simultaneously in the workforce, (Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millenials, Gen Z).  There also has not been as a profound difference between generations as there is now. This is in large part due to the timing of the third and fourth industrial revolution.  Baby Boomers grew up without using computers for the most part, to Gen Z, who only know life in a smartphone world. 

The lack of understanding and empathy across generations has let the culture killing issue of ageism into many work environments. Typically ageism is associated with older generations, but it actually impacts every generation across our workforce. 

Understanding the signs

You first need to determine if you potentially have this issue in the first place. Some signs of ageism may look like this:

  • Employees cast judgment on one another based solely on age. 
  • Employees dismiss the ideas offered by younger and older co-workers. 
  • Generations compete for recognition, resources, and influence. (Us vs. Them)
  • Multi-generational teams uniquely struggle to accomplish their task or mission. 
  • Sub-conscious bias to hire from one particular generation. 
  • Older workers want to get out or retire early. 
  • Younger workers are disengaged, uninterested and have higher turnover rates. 
  • Employees assume people younger and older are incapable of doing the job as well as them. 

Looking through the list, some of these signs are obvious and some are very subtle. It’s easy to pick on gossip and negative comments but much harder to realize there may be biased promotion procedures.  Take a neutral look and include different generations as you gather your information. 

Reports sometimes say a sign of ageism is when a manager communicates that they need special training to lead different generations. This is not true and is not ageism.  What you are looking at is a leader that has self-awareness in their leadership ability and understanding of generational gaps. It’s beneficial for all employees to understand how to work across different generations. 

Realize that there are deniers out there 

If you do a search for “generational difference in the workplace myth” you’ll pull up a ton of articles from supposed experts and research scientists out there that deny generational differences exist. Don’t fall prey to this thinking. Much like the people that put videos denying work-life balance exists and then go on to explain a variation of the exact thing they are denying; many of the generational articles actually end up acknowledging ageism in a varied way. 

Ways to collaborate across generations

Whether you find yourself and your organization needing a turnaround or simply a little improvement, these areas are a great place to start.  

1. Keep expectations high.
One of the classic stereotypes is that no generation can complete a task or project as well as the one that you are a part of. As a result, we lower our expectations in dealing with other generations. Keep your expectations high. You get what you expect and inspect. One of the most common self-fulfilling prophecies out there reads, “Low expectations.”

2. Find Commonality. We will cover items that are common across all generations in Ep 199: Commonality across generations. Remember that there is often shared commonality on a personal level just below the surface. You just need to be intentional in finding out what that is. Were you both in scouts or the military? Do you share the same hobbies? Movie or music taste? Are you both foodies? Into sports? There are many avenues to build a bond with someone that has nothing to do with your generation.  Use this to build a relational bond that will help your working relationship. 

3. Connect the talent. Yes, different generations have different communication preferences, personal work values, and challenges, but talent is talent. Everyone is talented in some regard. Understand what each person’s unique talent is and give them a chance to utilize it and show it off to others. It makes the person feel valued and appreciated and it helps to break misconceptions with other generations. 

Next week we will dive into strategies on connecting with different generations and then move on to what we all share as well as the benefits when all generations work well together. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

We will be launching a sister podcast to Passing the Baton called Leaders of Atlanta on Jan 21st! This show will highlight CEOs and senior leaders in different sectors of the city. You’ll get an inside view of their leadership journey and the story of the company or cause that they are tied to. You’ll also walk away with practical tips to grow your own leadership and life walk.