There are three main generations of employees in the workplace today: Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials. Gen Z, also known as iGen, will start to enter the workplace in force soon. Due to factors like increased retirement age and an unstable economy that impact how we work, different generations can have different work ethics, communication styles, and habits. This can lead to a variety of tensions in the workplace.
Workers who are younger might feel they are not taken seriously by more experienced employees. Staff who are older may feel that their expertise is less valued than the technological expertise of employees who are younger. Here, we’ll examine three strategies for improving interpersonal relations of different generations at work.
1. Facilitate Intergenerational Mentorship
One of the main causes of tension among different generations in the workplace is the lack of awareness of others’ points of view. If employees can put themselves in their colleagues' positions, it will be possible for them to overcome possible misunderstandings that may arise as a result of generational age differences.
Understanding that each person, regardless of age, brings meaningful skills to the workplace is key in improving intergenerational relations. Additionally, learning how other generations do things—for example, how Baby Boomers interact face-to-face or how Millennials resolve issues over text message—puts more tools in the toolbox for everyone. Establishing an intergenerational mentorship program is one way to teach this.
This can entail pairing Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers on assignments, varying who is in charge depending on the goal of the project. Alternatively, formal mentor/mentee relationships can be established. Group training sessions facilitated by peer leaders are another possibility. Whatever format you decide to implement, the important thing is to be explicit about the qualifications of the mentor and the goals of the mentorship program.
2. Use a Variety of Communication Methods
One of the biggest differences between the various generations is communication style preferences. Baby Boomers tend to prefer traditional communication styles such as face-to-face communication, letters, and telephone calls. Millennials prefer texting and social media, and may even view emailing as old-fashioned. Gen Xers tend to be comfortable with a wide variety of communication methods.
In order to ensure you are reaching all of your employees, make sure you are providing consistent messaging to all platforms so that everyone receives the same message regardless of their communication preferences. Collaborative workplaces can help ensure you are able to accomplish this goal without having to manually repost every message every time.
This is not just a generational issue. We all have preferred communication styles regardless of age. Additionally, we all have a tendency to communicate in our preferred style rather than the preferred style of the recipient. Particularly in customer-facing industries in which clients can also be from any of a number of generations, learning to communicate the same message in a variety of formats is a useful skill.
3. Ask for Feedback
To further encourage harmony among various generations at work, regularly solicit feedback about processes, policies, and overall company culture. This feedback can be submitted according to the employees’ preferred communication style (i.e. anonymously or face-to-face) and can provide management with valuable insight on age-related matters in the workplace.
If age seems to be a point of contention in the workplace, you may need to make a change to your company culture. Changing the status quo starts by examining your company’s recruiting strategies. There are legal ramifications for deliberate hiring discrimination based on age. However, many issues also arise from implicit biases that are not immediately apparent. Consider bringing in a consultant who can help HR professionals identify these implicit biases and develop recruiting strategies that value workers of all ages.
New employment opportunities should be advertised in such a way that encourages all qualified persons to apply, regardless of age. Diversify your advertising channels by including social media and traditional recruiting techniques to improve your odds of attracting a diverse set of candidates. Make sure your HR staff and interview teams understand that they are looking for specific skills and experience rather than age.
Even though generation gaps in the workplace can pose a challenge to employers and employees alike, they can also be used to everyone's advantage if they are willing to embrace it and do the necessary work. Cultivating a company culture that encourages collaboration and deploying recruiting strategies that value diversity will help minimize potential conflict and help multigenerational workforces thrive.