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    Bridging the Workforce Generation Gap
    The Vault

    Bridging the Workforce Generation Gap

    September 2016

    There was a time when our grandparents, who lived through the Second World War, scorned the Baby Boomers. They were too idealistic, too self-absorbed, or so thought the previous generation.  Then came the Baby Boomers’ contempt for Gen-X -- its lack of loyalty and desire to “have it all” right now.  And we all can’t stand Millennials, whose sense of entitlement and ill-preparedness for the workplace is downright aggravating (I kid).  Indeed, there is, was, and always will be tension between the generations.

    Not surprisingly, this tension often transfers to the workforce.  “Old timers” with decades of experience under their belts typically don’t mesh well with the young “hot shots” eager for a fast-track ticket to the corner office.  And now more than ever before, that tension is becoming more complicated.  For the first time in history, four generations -- Veterans, Boomers, Gen-X, and Millennials -- are working in the same office.  These are groups who grew up in vastly different times, have often diverging value sets, and conflicting communication styles.  Often, our biggest challenge as leaders of our companies is getting people to see past their biases and work together.  It’s important work, because coming up with truly innovative solutions requires everyone’s input and hard work.

    How do you do it?  How do you bridge the generation gap between your employees?  Here are 3 simple tips.

    1. Embrace the differences.  

    Each generation has shared experiences that shaped how they grew up and in turn, influenced their work styles. There is nothing right or wrong about the way each person learns, communicates, or works.  Younger generations need to understand that the experience of older generations matters, just as older generations need to acknowledge that Millennials communicate in a new way -- through social media and devices -- and have an understanding of the workings of the Internet that their elders rarely do.  Tapping into both decades of experience and knowledge can be a winning combination.  

    Work to create a culture that embraces the differences between the generations. You can start by providing training materials, courses, and resources in both digital and printed formats (some workers are comfortable navigating a new digital ecosystem and troubleshooting along the way while others prefer learning from a printed manual), and allowing for an adjustment period when any new technology or system is introduced. Provide multiple ways to communicate and facilitate learning.  In short, acknowledge that there are differences between your employees, and work to accommodate all of them.  If you want your employees to embrace the differences between them, you must lead by example.

    1. See everyone as a mentor.

    Partnering younger workers with older workers can have a positive impact on larger teams. Younger workers can learn the value of structure and face-to-face interaction, while older workers can pick up on new technologies that benefit their work-life balance or allow them to complete tasks faster. Everyone has something to teach.  So, as new projects come up, develop teams that draw from a cross-section of all generations. Set up teams based on skill rather than age, and then diversify as needed.  

    1. Keep your eye on the prize.

    If everyone on the team does their share and works hard at achieving the common goal, it may not matter whether Veterans work at their desks during office hours, whether Boomers work after hours, whether Gen Xers work at home on the weekend, or whether Millennials work on smartphones in coffee shops.  Encourage employees to focus on their goals, not their methods of achieving them.  Be patient, and keep moving forward.  The wrinkles will iron out over time.


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