Bridging Generational Gap: Challenges & Solutions - Age Diversity
Mixing the generations in the work place has its advantages and it challenges, as each generation has its own strengths, and skills they bring to the workplace. Generational differences, affects how people communicate, with different communication styles, conflict, and misunderstandings which can cause employee turnover, absenteeism, difficulty in attracting employees, gaining employee commitment, and retaining diverse talents.
Generational differences can affect everything, including recruiting, building teams, dealing with change, motivating, managing, and maintaining and increasing productivity.
The clash of communication styles, work ethics, leadership styles, values and beliefs create cultural chaos. The main issue between generations is an issue of credibility “Can they do the job (Of course from that generation point of view). Members of each generation may not be especially interested in learning about new perspectives or ways of doing things. Another obstacle is the amount of change that inter-generational mingling at the Workplace brings with it. Many people resist change, feeling more comfortable leaving things the way they are. Diversity of any kind often brings tensions.
The advantages are that Teams and groups can gain an edge if they learn how to help each other for example older employees can stay motivated to utilize their wealth of experience and talent, and learned to trust and leverage the younger generations technical skills.
Understanding the key themes for each age group, which we discussed in previous posts, can build a base for understanding and can reduce stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.
This is a great opportunity to share our experiences, ideas, skills and innovations. We also demonstrated- in the previous posts; how each generation (Matures, Boomers, Gen X , Gen Y, and GEN Z) was affected and shaped by the times they lived; now we can reap the benefits each generation has to offer by understanding them, learning to communicate better, increase productivity, better face changes and develop a more respectful workplace.
The first challenge we need to face is to attack the myths and stereotypes about each generation. Stereotyping people based on their age is a common problem, and it breeds suspicion and distrust, the most common myths are:
Stereotypes about Gen Y” Being self-absorbed, feeling entitled, having no loyalty, no respect to authority, having short attention spans, and they would rather trade high pay to flexible schedules and a better work-life balance and avoid working long hours and overtime
Millenials might view infrequent, more subtle feedback from older colleagues as proof that they are cold, distant, passive-aggressive or unwilling to communicate
People quit learning when they get old, they are rigid and dogmatic.
Older employees resent to be told what to do; well don’t we all? Older people stopped being creative:
Older people are less productive and just waiting to retire, they have higher absenteeism and accident rates
Baby Boomers define themselves by what they do professionally, they sacrificed a great deal to get where they are in their career, so they believe that both Generation X and Generation Y should pay their dues and conform to a culture of overwork. Baby Boomers may criticize younger generations for a lack of work ethic and commitment to the workplace.
Boomers believe in ranks and may have a hard time adjusting to workplace flexibility trends. They believe in "face time" at the office and may fault younger generations for working remotely.
Examples of Communication gaps
When a boss tells a baby boomer need to get the report done when they get a chance, they hear it as an order to be done now, when Xer hears it as an observation, will get to it on time
Appraisal time: Mature manager offers a nice monetary bonus for a project well done. Gen X is ungrateful as they didn’t I get it 6 months ago when the project was finished, he/ she rather have some time off to spend with the family and Gen Y needs immediate gratification.
A GEN X manager tells a Boomer that he has been working too hard and should take some time off to take his family on vacation. The Boomer answers that he doesn’t work for vacation but to get promoted and get ahead.
Example of different communication styles:
A diverse team of different generations working together to recommend a solution to a nasty problem, but after two weeks nothing is done as:
The Matures are looking for hand written notes and step by step request to follow
Boomers don’t like to work independently, and want meetings, expect to work 24/7
Xers don’t want to hear about work out of work
Yers don’t want any meetings, Emails only.
Advantages of a multi-generational workforce:
Teams can gain an edge by utilizing their wealth of experience and talent of each generation. Older employees to learn to trust and leverage the younger ones’ skills.
The younger generation “Millenials” give energy to the workplace with an infusion of new ideas
Milenials are great at doing research especially online but do not know how to analyze the data, Baby Boomers have great analytical and critical thinking skills, combining these skills will close the circle
Understanding the key themes for each age group can build a base for understanding and can reduce stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. Build active engagement
Increased innovation and creativity by sharing experiences, ideas, skills and perspectives bringing new solutions and opportunities for a competitive edge
Mentoring and reverse mentoring: To fill the gaps of experience in each generation, and avoid the old mistakes.
The team can attract and retain talented people of all ages, being more flexible.
The team can gain and keep greater market share because its members reflect a multi-generation market, and can meet needs of a diverse public.
Decisions are stronger because they are broad-based.
To build an inclusion culture: • Know the demographics- externally and internally • Demonstrate respect and recognition • Open channels of communications and dialogue • Participative problem solving and decision making • Comprehensive leadership of all generations • Build on strengths, understand and appreciate them • Offer options • Transfer knowledge from older generation to younger ones as they have a tendency to keep all their knowledge and experience in their heads
Start with a generational audit to grasp your internal demographics.
Conduct Diversity and Leadership training workshops. The training will use sensitivity making younger employees aware and sensitive to older employees’ needs, strengths and potential contributions. Also give information to older employees to be more aware of their own actions that foster widening the gap; as well as offering solutions.
Train managers and leaders on the ADEA Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 – prohibiting discrimination of workers of 40 years or older
Bring out the best in each employee, adapt to the styles and preferences of a multi-generational workforce and look through a generational filter to consider actions with employees.
Host a Generational Awareness Week. Post photos that represent the generations. Include icons and popular expressions. Play music that is popular to each generation
Write four versions—one for each generation—of an Employee Value Proposition, in a way to match each generation’s values, wants and needs.
Review the benefits package; match them to appeal to each single generation. Design three rewards specific to each single generation.
Review the makeup of the Board of Directors. To make sure they match the company’s DNA
Learn about other generations beside yours. Ask questions, learn history, characters, motivation, and work preferences. Respect others.
Ask employees from the 4 different generations about their ideal manager characters. Then, create profiles of four ideal managers—one for each generation. What do all the profiles have in common? Where do they differ? And think how to apply these findings
Consider implementing inter-generational mentoring as well as reverse mentoring and generational employee-resource or affinity groups.
Companies are aligning jobs with the shared values of employees:
American Express is providing more job flexibility, allowing people to work where and how they want;
CitiGroup’s Alternative Solutions Work program; which provides opportunities for social contribution
Ernst and Young's Corporate Responsibly Fellows Program which has instituted progressive work policies that value multiple bottom lines including sustainability.
Time Warner and Cisco which has instituted inter-generational mentoring.
Deloitte created a platform like Facebook D-Street to communicate with their GEN Y.
Kaiser Permanente built an internal networking site called KP IdeaBook, an interactive site where employees can create detailed professional profiles, find and connect with colleagues via search and browsing capabilities, establish groups and provide status updates on work projects
Age is a diversity issue, the melting pot theory is not applicable anymore as melting everything down, gets everything mixed together into a mass of gray mud. The different groups lose their uniqueness. Everything becomes homogeneous and loses the variety of perspectives. Potential goes untapped.
We need to look at diversity as a big bowl of salad with different color vegetables, each retaining its nutrition and flavor; that we can mix and match and choose our own dressing to match our tastes i.e. goals.
It is not singing “Kumbaya” but rather understanding and respecting our similarities and differences and putting them to work for us rather than against us.
Please share any comments, opinions or ideas here below
Disclaimer: As in the case of any diversity groups, not everyone in the group is the same there are individual differences - the goal is not stereotyping rather generalization of each group
Diversity starts at home,
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Sahar Andrade, MB.BCh
Diversity, Inclusion, and Leadership Consultant- Certified Social Media Strategist