Generation Gap Definition
The generation gap is the difference of outlook, opinions, beliefs, skills, attitudes, and behaviors among the older generations and the younger generations. In short, the generation gap is the age gap between each generation. While the generation gap has been prevalent throughout all periods of history, it has only grown more prevalent in recent years.
Generation gaps are very evident in today’s workplace as seniors tend to work beyond the traditional age for retirement. Sometimes a workplace may have Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation Xers (1965-1976), Generation Yers (1977-1990), and Millennials (born since 1991) all working side by side. Open communication between the different generations is essential to bridge this gap. This helps each generation to recognize the strengths and skills of another and creates more cohesiveness.
What are the biggest challenges in working across generations?
One of the biggest challenges in the workplace is that a leadership deficit is being created. As older people leave the workplace, there are not enough Gen Xers to fill the need. Gen Yers and Millennials are flooding the workplace, but they still need to develop skills and gain experience.
Younger bosses are working with older employees and older bosses with younger employees. A wide gap often exists in terms of lifestyles, values, work ethics, communication styles, experience, and technological aptitude.
Generation gap challenges include the following:
- Varying communication styles
- Different characteristics and work ethics
- Different feedback expectations
- Different understanding of work/life balance
- Different ways to resolve conflict
As technology advances, generations growing up with the advances embrace them whilst other generations who did not grow up with them often struggle to adapt.
- Grew up using telephones, sending letters by post and using typewriters.
- Prefer phone conversations and face-to-face communication.
- They have often struggled to adapt to modern technology.
- They are familiar with technology, but it is not second nature to them as it is to the following generations. They have adapted pretty well.
Gen Yers and Millennials
- These generations grew up with advanced technology in the form of laptops, tablets, and mobile phones.
- They are constantly online, sharing on social media platforms like Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and using instant messaging like WhatsApp and Facebook Chat.
- They have embraced a different way of working and relating with far more immediacy and informality in their communications. When they see that tick mark on WhatsApp, they immediately know a message has been read.
- work best in teams
- value meetings
- like being able to ask for direction
- believe in working hard and paying their dues
- often prioritize their work over everything else
- gain self-worth from their work
- adaptable and independent (their mothers were likely to work, and parents were often divorced)
- like working on their own without interference
- enjoy challenges (“why should we do this your way?”)
- savvy and street smart
- like a structured workplace
- respect accomplishments over authority
- want to achieve their own goals
- want opportunities to learn and grow
- expect and demand feedback
- incredibly tech savvy
- great multi-taskers and skilled collaborators
- live fast-paced lives
- prefer to learn for themselves than be told what to do
- want authenticity
- need a sense of purpose (They are even willing to earn less for the opportunity to do meaningful work).
Baby Boomers expect to be acknowledged in the form of yearly pay raises, promotions, and titles. Subsequent generations require constant, consistent feedback to make sure they are on target with their goals. Gen Yers who were raised with praise, high expectations, appreciate immediate feedback, and rewards.
Millenials want to be treated as valued employees who are kept in the loop about what’s going on in a company. Don’t try to keep them in the dark and deprive them of relevant information or they lose motivation and leave. They want to do meaningful work with a purpose and help to change the world.
Baby Boomers often work very hard to achieve expectations and tend to adapt their personal lives to fit what’s expected. This can be an area of conflict because they expect the younger generations to have the same work ethic and want them to earn respect and pay their dues.
Gen Xers like the challenge of work but they want more balance in their lives. Gen Yers and Millennials are committed to their careers, but they want to experience fulfillment in their work. They appreciate the flexibility that technology gives them and want to be able to use this to improve their work/life balance.
They prefer to design their own work schedule and not to waste too much time commuting. Working in flexible jobs gives often allows them to be more productive, develop their organizational skills, work from anywhere, and make more time for other activities.
John Barr, a Baby Boomer, has devoted his whole life to working hard to provide for his family. He says “I believe that it’s important to work hard and I have had to make many sacrifices along the way.” He is very loyal to the company he works for and has been at the same company for his whole working life. He feels the Millenials in his company do not appreciate and respect his work ethic.
Millenials think completely differently about work. They usually don’t anticipate staying with a company for more than two years. They are very excited about career prospects and opportunities and will quickly move on if they feel they are stagnating. They are extremely good at leveraging technological solutions and rely heavily on digital communication. This means they expect more flexibility when it comes to their working schedules. Many of them are able to work remotely which gives them more opportunity to establish a healthy work/life balance that was not available to their predecessors.
Marion Bauer, a content writer for assignmentgeek.com.au, explains what she wants as a millennial. She says “As millennials, we do not regard an hourly wage in itself as enough. We want to have our hearts and minds engaged in what we do. If we don’t experience fulfillment and believe we are making a difference, we don’t hesitate to move on”.
Baby Boomers want the consensus of the team. Gen Xers want to resolve conflict immediately and address problems directly. Gen Yers have often been taught conflict resolution skills during their school years that they can utilize. They want to understand the reasons for misunderstandings. Millennial are not that good at handling conflict and often need coaching.
How to Accommodate all Generations
Are the generations so different that it’s impossible to accommodate them within one company?
Here’s how to accommodate all generations in the workplace:
- Avoid stereotyping
- Open communication and transparency
- Adjust communication methods
- Mentoring is key
- Improve training
- Create a company culture of mutual respect
Stereotypes have developed about all the generations. For example, Baby Boomers are thought to be technologically inept and intransigent. Peter Capelli, director of Wharton’s Human Resources Center, says that in fact there are not permanent, intrinsic differences between the generations. He says that younger people behave in a different way to older ones but after a few decades, they probably experience essentially the same type of issues.
The tendency to stereotype employees according to age can be unfair, such as the idea that older people are unwilling to learn new stuff or that younger people don’t respect the older generations. While there are common tendencies, attributes, and skill sets within a generation, this should not take away from individual differences that exist. It’s very important to understand these individual differences, rather than just making blanket assessments of capabilities. Employees are likely to become resentful if they feel they are being treated in a certain way based on their birth date.
Anyone with good management and leadership skills will find there are ways to bridge the gap between the generations and bring out what’s best in all employees.
- They know the importance of teaching skills and providing opportunities for growth and career advancement.
- They know that they need to be transparent and open if they want to gain the trust of their employees and they need this trust because they know they can’t do everything on their own.
- They understand how important it is to communicate regularly and clearly about their expectations and goals.
- They know that to achieve their goals they need to put their own egos aside and serve others.
There is no substitute for this type of environment where everyone feels as though they have a part to play in the direction of the company. They are forced to see both sides and come to grips with other viewpoints. Everyone should be given the opportunity to present creative thoughts, complaints, ideas, and concerns.
In an inclusive environment where everyone is heard, better decisions will be made. Different generations also become exposed to the viewpoints of others and begin to appreciate the differences in the ways they approach their work, communicate, see their careers, and view their job roles. For example, Baby Boomers could benefit from embracing the attitude of Millennials towards work/life balance.
When it comes to communication, a blend of methods could be instituted to enable all generations to feel comfortable with one option or another. Some crucial meetings could require in-person attendance and others could be done via video chat.
Attending some meetings in person could help Millenials who are so used to relating to others through a screen. Some meetings are largely time-wasting and could be eliminated.
In a company, email could be a staple, but tasks and initiatives could also be discussed through Slack, work could be shared on Twitter, voice messages sent using Voxer, and collaboration encouraged using Google Docs. This would help to capture everyone’s preference when it came to communication.
Older generations could benefit from exposure to the quick communication methods of the Gen Yers and Millennials and how they leverage technology to increase their productivity.
As the younger generations enter the workforce, they expect technology to be implemented. In fact, more than 74 percent of millennials believe new technology makes their lives easier, compared to 31 percent of Generation X and just 18 percent of Baby Boomers. In today’s age, it’s critical to utilize technology in the workplace. Employee management software can help open communication with the entire team. Apps, like Deputy, make it easy for any employee to view their schedule, tasks, and any important notifications. Having an employee management software like Deputy in place will show the younger generations that your company is innovative and always one step ahead of competitors. Try Deputy for free and see how it can transform your business operations:
A successful, well-rounded workplace is one where all generations listen to one another and learn from one another. Fostering a sense of family encourages older employees to mentor millennials and offer them the benefit of their expertise and experience.
A mentorship program enables different generations to communicate and learn more about each other. The ones doing the mentoring often learn as much as the ones being mentored. They are exposed to fresh perspectives and creative ideas. Millenials looking for feedback appreciate the opportunity to seek out advice from more experienced employees they have developed a relationship with and this is a good way to facilitate their growth.
Training courses can help accelerate the growth of Gen Yers and Millennials entering the workplace, thus reducing the gap caused by the lack of Gen Xers to fill the positions of Baby Boomers who are retiring.
Getting older employees with years of experience to provide this training can help to prevent them from feeling sidelined and feel more receptive to transferring their knowledge. It can open the eyes of the younger generations to how much they still have to learn and foster respect for the experience of the older employee.
The older generation wants respect for their experience and expertise. Millennials also want respect and appreciation. They may not have experience, but they want to be appreciated for what they can contribute. Respect is an important need that they have in common.
Tips for younger bosses working with senior employees
With Gen Yers and Millennials flooding into the workplace, many Baby Boomers are finding themselves reporting to those who are younger than themselves. They have spent years working hard for the company, acquiring skills and experience and may feel that they are being pushed aside.
However, their input is valuable, and the transfer of their knowledge is important. This is often where organizations run into trouble – they get rid of all the older employees to make way for younger ones, and that important transfer of knowledge doesn’t take place. What younger bosses need to do is:
- Listen actively
- Use the employee’s expertise and experience
- Create individual development plans
- Give opportunities for team involvement
- Tips for older bosses working with young employees
- Give constant, constructive feedback
- Encourage big picture thinking and creativity
- Provide up-to-date technology
- Set reasonable expectations with ways to fulfill them
If companies can utilize the differing perspectives and skills of different generations, they have a good recipe for success. It can be a challenge, but when the balance is mastered, it has the potential of offering some impressive results.
Contrasting views of the different generations don’t have to result in conflict and disagreement. Fostering a work environment where differences are valued and respected instead of punished or downplayed can help to bridge the generation gap.
With Millennials come new ways of working and traditional business models are being disrupted. There is an uncertainty that didn’t exist in the past, and this can exacerbate tensions. But everything goes back to having a good company culture, and part of this is encouraging respect. Each generation has different priorities, and all employees must respect what is important to their colleagues.
Get everyone on the same page through better collaboration by utilizing tools that can streamline and benefit your business. Schedule a call with one of Deputy’s amazing reps and see how employee management software can improve business operations: