Respect Everyone desires respect among their peers and co-workers. This is the main reason why I don’t appreciate the phrase “OK Boomer”. I understand that it’s rooted in the frustration that a younger generation feels like they are ignored and being held to outdated ideology. Answering disrespect with disrespect only proves the other person’s point in their own mind and does nothing to build a meaningful relationship.
To be heard Similarly, everyone has a desire to be heard. Take time to listen to others without judgment no matter the age difference. Their point and perspective is just as valid as yours.
Connection On some level we all desire connection with others. People, for the most part, enjoy collaborating, mentoring and helping those that they are close to. We enjoy sharing ideas and thoughts when we feel safe and supported to do so.
Being recognized Positive feedback, praise, and recognition go a long way no matter your age. It strongly affirms and builds confidence in your leaders while showing respect and appreciation for older leaders. You can never give out too much praise. The person who has been around 30 years will love it just as much as the person who has been around 30 days.
Keep the light on Every generation hates being left in the dark. Be inclusive of all groups and communicate clearly with a varied approach to match your audience. When you don’t deliver the narrative and mission people will begin to write their own.
Magical things begin to happen in your organization when different generations work well together. Here are just a few of those benefits:
Innovation increases Forbes led a study that showed diversity being key to driving innovation in your team. It’s the increase in perspective and experience that is the fuel for talent and ideas here. Each generation can provide insight and knowledge to an innovative thought regardless of stereotypes.
Better serves your customer/client The increased perspective also gives your team a great advantage of fully understanding your audience. This is one of the reasons why I always coach teams to match the customer that they deal with on a daily basis.
Future-proofing your workforce
Last year, we had Diana Wu David speak on our show (Ep 182) on future-proofing your success as an individual. Generations that work well across lines in a company future-proof the success of the organization. Your loss of knowledge drops significantly when older leaders leave and your younger leaders step into those roles.
We talk about the power of mentorship often, but mentoring in this circumstance can be a two-way street. The older ones can mentor younger leaders on people issues, industry knowledge, and best practices. The younger leader can return value by offering a perspective in changing demographics and technology changes.
Well rounded skillset
Your organizational and team ability increases as generations work together for a common goal. An example would be utilizing the communication preferences from last week’s lesson in a sales campaign. Your older team members could utilize phone outreach while your mid-tier leveraged email and your younger leaders reached out by apps, text, and social media.
There is beauty when different generations are working together and adding value to one another. Work hard to identify any issues that you may have, understand their perspective and lean into their uniqueness to lead them well. You and those around you will have a more fulfilling work experience.
Misconceptions, stereotypes and a lack of respect for other generations have further fueled the need for understanding each other. If we are going to be productive, we must know how to connect with each other.
This was a lesson that I had to learn once I started leading large groups of people. I often found younger leaders would pick up and follow me and older leaders would stubbornly stand their ground no matter how obvious it was that they needed to change. Once I learned what was important to each group, I was much more successful in engaging all of my leaders.
The chart above helps you with an empathetic view of the other generations you work with on a regular basis. Understanding general communication preferences and values can go a long way in eliminating frustration and friction across generational lines.
I am a very driven leader that focuses on problem-solving and implementing change regardless of how things have always been done. My disconnect when leading seasoned baby boomers for the first time was that I didn’t realize how much value they put on tenure and legacy. Once I learned my lesson, I changed my approach. I acknowledged their tenure, assigned them projects to showcase those skills in front of others, and framed all the changes through the lens of landing a great legacy at the company. Those changes made a world of difference.
Show them respect, include them in major change initiatives, and frame them in a way that matters to them.
Gen X is the first generation to be chasers of work-life balance. I have found them to be very hard working but often missed out on promotions and potential because they were never developed in the right way. They were typically given very general feedback of, “Do better.” “Keep trying.” or nothing at all. I found that this group thrives by giving them practical steps to achieve their success. Don’t just tell them to do better. Tell them how to do better in a tangible way. Providing them with time management training and system efficiencies is very well appreciated. It shows you care for them outside of the workplace.
Certainly, a lot of material has been written about this group. This group is not nearly as loyal to a brand or company as the previous two generations. To engage with this group it’s essential that they feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment in their role and that the company is serving a larger purpose.
This group typically enjoys and appreciates being a part of a collaborative team and enjoys flexibility in how and where they work. Trust is key here in allowing non-traditional work practices into the culture if possible. I have yet to interact with an organization that went backward after allowing flexible schedules when it made sense. Millennials also appreciate the freedom to try new things.
This group is just now making a significant impact in the workforce and will continue to grow in influence in the coming years. Growing up in a fully digital age has left many of these workers lacking soft skills essential for long-term leader success. When I spent time with senior leaders for the Leaders of Atlanta podcast many cited this need as they see the newest generation entering the workforce.
Provide soft skills training and other opportunities to grow as a person as well. Mentoring groups in and outside the company are a great way to connect them to the older generation. They typically put a very high value on independence and social responsibility, so give them freedom with a safety net and provide them opportunities to give back to the community and the world so they are fulfilled.
Use some of these practical tips and knowledge to engage individually with people across generations. Your workforce will be more engaged and unified as you push towards your business goals.
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.