The Generation Gap – How to Bridge the Gap in the Workplace

by Katie Sawyer, 4 minutes read
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The best leaders build teams with people from different backgrounds. While gender and ethnicity are more common facets of diversity, business leaders should never overlook the importance of age diversity.

To maintain a productive and inclusive workforce, business leaders need to develop practices that accommodate these differences. If you manage teams, read on to discover how you can bridge generational gaps and highlight your employees’ most shining qualities.

1. Create space for different communication styles

Your workforce spans multiple generations, defined by the years they were born: Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964), Generation X (1965 – 1980), Millennials (1980 – 1995), and Generation Z (1996 – present). Think of how people from these different eras came to experience work, independence, and technology for the first time. Gen Y predated the internet while Gen Z learned to use touch screens as toddlers.

Give everyone a fair avenue to receive and share information and make sure that you aren’t sticking to only one form of communication. Technology, not to mention a global pandemic, created a boom in virtual communications. But with that comes the possibility that your staff operate in silos.

Try to use a blend of communication styles so that everyone feels comfortable. Relying too much on Slack for example devalues the power of in-person conversation. Use technology to make your jobs easier, but remember that it can break down. Sometimes grabbing a cup of coffee to have a meeting is more satisfying.

2. Implement collaborative training

Learning is better together. Does your business have a group of Baby Boomers or Gen X employees leaving the team without Millenials to fill their shoes? Bridge the generational knowledge gap with training opportunities that allow more senior employees to train their younger counterparts.

A more senior employee could lead a lunch-and-learn session to share manager best practices, or you could let your employees sign up for training courses to learn their skill of choice. Empower your staff to share their knowledge so they’ll gain a greater sense of belonging.

You can also create the spirit of team learning with your onboarding process. Gather your new employees every month and have them undergo the same onboarding experience together. This way, they can build respect and understanding with one another from day one, regardless of their age.

3. Encourage flexibility

Priorities for people are different at every stage of life. Gen Z new hires might be fresh out of school and eager to prove themselves. A Millennial might have relocated to a new city alone to look for social opportunities at work. A Gen X crowd might have childcare and schooling obligations.

Your employees will not all have the same relationship to their job. You can help them be more productive and enjoy their work with greater flexibility. If they can swap shifts last minute for example, they can achieve some work-life balance.

For office employees, remote-work is likely here to stay after the pandemic. Consider following the trend and allow your employees to work from home to balance their obligations. If remote work is not possible for your business, give your employees a say in their schedules. Ask them for their preferences and support their priorities outside of work. Make sure they can easily communicate their availability and find a replacement if needed.

4. Avoid stereotyping

The internet might have you believe that Gen Z and Millennials are at war. Both seem to have some surface-level observations about the other around fashion choices, hobbies, and ethics. Stereotypes have developed about every generation. Baby Boomers are bad at technology, Gen X is submissive, Millennials are too soft, and Gen Z complains.

In reality, individuals often defy expectations for their age. For every generation, there is value in how people take on new challenges, gain experience, and desire to make the world a better place.

Don’t put your employees in a box. Just as you should never make any assumptions based on someone’s gender, remember that all of your employees are equally capable of succeeding. Throw stereotypes out the window and optimize your workplace so that anyone can feel supported.

If your team feels pressured to work long hours, create an open vacation policy. If they’re craving fulfillment, build training and volunteer opportunities. Give them actionable goals if they need more structure. The best leaders can bring the best out of their employees without making blanket assessments.

5. Provide mentorship

Each generation possesses unique knowledge and experiences to share. A successful workplace allows all generations to learn from one another.

Encourage your older employees to share their real world experiences, while younger employees can lead training on new technology and social trends if the other employees aren’t already aware of these trends. Mentorship should move in every direction so that every generation can benefit from learning and teaching.

Mentorship programs will build confidence in your workforce. Younger employees will feel more prepared for leadership, while older employees can adopt fresh approaches to work. Intergenerational learning will help your employees become well-rounded owners of their expertise.

6. Foster belonging

Create a culture of open, mutual respect. Your employees should be proud to work with people who don’t always look like them. Beyond your formal work operations, are there opportunities for your employees to authentically connect? If you have a team outing, remember that not everyone likes to stay out late drinking. Be inclusive with how you celebrate your wins, too.

All employees must respect what is important to their colleagues. You’ll only understand what these values are by creating the proper space to share them. Hold your team culture to the highest standard, and remember that people across every generation essentially want to be valued and seen.

Learn more tips to improve your workforce when you download The 2021 State of Shift Work Report.

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