As the workforce changes, generational differences become more apparent.
Some of us can quickly connect to someone who remembers Blazing Saddles, Dallas, Seinfeld or Saved By the Bell. However, when people of different generations are teamed together in the workplace, the variations between the generations can cause “JR” and “Screech” to butt heads.
The Traditionalists become annoyed, and the Millennial’s are constantly checking their phones and social media feeds. Then there are the Gen Xer’s who think the Baby Boomers should be more open to changing the way they run meetings. These generational differences often cause issues to arise which could lead to flared tempers, therefore inhibiting any thoughts of teamwork.
However hopeless it seems for people from ages 20 to 70 to work together productively, managers should focus less on the differences. Find similarities to minimize generational differences, encouraging everyone to work together across age groups.
Still true today, a University of North Carolina Chapel Hill study on generation gaps found that employees of different age groups actually have more in common than we might assume. Every generation wants to work on challenging projects and be competitively compensated for their work. They also want to have opportunities for learning, growth and advancement in their jobs, be treated fairly and be able to establish a work-life balance.
Everyone also agrees the ideal leader leads by example and are accessible. They help others see how their role contributes to the organization and they act as a coach and mentor, provide challenges and ultimately holds everyone accountable.
What can organizations do to help draw out commonalities and foster a spirit of teamwork, collaboration and communication across generations?
- Offer employees opportunities to learn and develop so they can be more successful.
- Develop strong and genuine leadership programs to improve existing leaders’ skills and abilities. This includes finding and fostering future leaders within the organization.
- Offer coaching and mentoring programs to mix things up across the generational divide. Your organization’s communication and career satisfaction will improve.
- Create employee reward systems that acknowledge employee contributions, so everyone who innovates or saves money gets recognized — young, mature, and somewhere in the middle.
- Develop processes which help employees at all levels cope with a rapidly changing workplace. For example, installing a new computer system requires training for everyone!
- Clarify expectations about how different generations: define work-life balance, conduct their professional behavior and encourage workplace engagement, thus eliminating speculation.
- Offer work-life balance programs that meet employee’s needs at every life-stage.
At the core people really aren’t that different, no matter what their age. But where differences do arise, view them as strengths. Stephen Covey recognized this in describing his “6 habit – synergy”. He said it involved creative collaboration: “People bringing all their personal experience and expertise to the table. Together, they can produce far better results that they could individually. Valuing differences is what really drives synergy.”
“Differences,” said Covey, “add zest to life.”