News and Insights

Bridging the Workplace Generation Gap

February 25, 2019

Often, leaders believe defining a business strategy is the most important activity they will perform all year. But, in reality, getting workforce buy-in for a strategy and organizational goals is even more critical. “Win their hearts and their minds will follow,” as the saying goes.

With five generations of employees making up today’s workforce – from pre- and post-World War II babies to Generation Z, whose oldest members turn 18 this year – communication can be complicated. Each generation’s ideas, perceptions and work have been influenced by the events, culture and social mores and etiquette of their time.

Pause for a second and think about the stereotypes you bring to work about young, middle-aged and older employees.

Now think about how those stereotypes affect your interactions (or lack thereof) with co-workers.

A study published recently in Harvard Business Review revealed that each generation treats the others with some amount of suspicion. Specific to their role in business, each generation perceived the others are “only in it for the money,” don’t work as hard, and do not care about meaning, the research showed.

If each generation thinks this way, it’s not surprising they treat each other differently than if they believe they are all striving for intrinsic meaning in their jobs – thus a common goal. Stereotypes like these can lead to conflict among co-workers, which may affect performance, commitment, and job satisfaction, the study says.

In the movie The Intern, Robert DeNiro plays a retired, 70ish widower who becomes an intern at an online fashion site. Along the way, DeNiro’s character discovers he still has something to offer in the business world – his wealth of experience — and ends up a beloved adviser to young co-workers and the company’s CEO, who were initially awkward in their dealings with the older intern.

In real life, too, employers can work to overcome stereotypes by hiring and developing teams of workers of various ages, genders and ethnicities, and encouraging mentoring relationships not just between old and young but across cultures and areas of expertise. Holding workshops about the commonalities of generations – and the uniqueness each brings to the table –elevates the positives of a diverse workforce and can lead to better communication and collaboration.

Working together toward common goals and organizational success becomes simpler and more meaningful when we each have a better understanding of the co-workers seated around us. After all, the generations are in it together, the researchers noted, and for remarkably similar reasons.

TAGS: Education