With Baby Boomers working at older ages and Generation Z (also known as the iGens) coming of age as adults in the workforce, we now have the unprecedented situation of four distinct generations in the workplace. To simplify the differences, the median age for each group is:
Baby Boomers 65 years
Generation X 44
In a nutshell, these segments were established based on the world as it was during their respective coming of age years as influenced by politics, social behavior, entertainment and technology. Today, with different mindsets, they are converging on the workforce and challenged to function as fine-tuned teams to accomplish your mission and vision.
Differences in their beliefs, motivations and social norms can throw the teamwork thing off-course. This can be especially pronounced among family businesses where culture and “fit” is highly valued. To say it another way, family members within a company are expected to be at least somewhat homogenous due to their family heritage. At the same time however, age denotes mindset and life stage differences that are also deeply rooted.
In an article for Harvard Business Review, Rebecca Knight offers some practical advice that can help ensure positive interactions:
- Don’t dwell on differences. There seems to be a tendency to focus more on what is different about each generation than on what similarities might exist. Avoid the potential to accept as true the stereotypes about various generations; be alert to language that perpetuates stereotypes: “All (insert generation) are …,” or “My generation is ….”
- Build collaborative relationships. We understand and appreciate others more when we have the opportunity to get to know them. Creating opportunities for employees of different generations to interact in both work- and non-work-related settings can help to build relationships and minimize misunderstandings.
- Study your employees. Understand the demographics of your workplace as well as employee communication preferences. An annual survey can be used to help identify both differences and similarities between various employee groups.
- Create opportunities for cross-generational mentoring. This can work both ways—don’t automatically assume that younger generations will be mentored by older generations. All age groups have opportunities to learn from each other.
- Consider life paths. Understand where your employees are at in their life paths in terms of responsibilities and interests they may have outside the workplace, but don’t make assumptions. It’s important to remember that employees, regardless of generation, share both commonalities and differences.
The good news is, according to Universum Global’s Generations series 2017 study, there are topics for discussion that resonate with all segments:
- Becoming a leaderwas important to the majority of each generation (57% Gen X, 61% Millennials, 61% iGens),
- About half of each generation worried whether their personalities fit inwhere they worked (40% Gen X, 50% Millennials, 50% iGens),
- They all worried about stress and work-life balance.
Top management is not totally responsible. Simple, fun exercises regarding each generational segment that dispels false stereotypes (e.g., Boomers are too old and Millennials are too lazy) can go a long way.
While these guidelines and facts won’t guarantee “one happy family” in your workplace, they can shed some light on the real source behind an impasse to productive teamwork.
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