Updated: Jun 23
What we call a generation gap is usually a result of poor communication and interaction.
A workplace generally consists of people of different ages and outlook who work together to achieve organizational and professional goals. What happens when people of different generations come together, each generation having their own set of values, ethics, thinking, understanding and behavior? Clashes and difference of opinions are bound to happen. These behaviors could lead to serious issues at workplace and could upset the normal functioning of teams.
The Generation Grid
As every country has a decided a particular age for retirement, a workplace could have sets of people of different ages working for them. Nowadays we can also find seniors who tend to work beyond the traditional age for retirement. A workplace may have Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1976), Generation Y (1977-1990), and Millennials (born since 1991) all working side by side. These generations form the core of any organisation’s Human Capital. Then you have a very small portion of the Transitionalists (1925-1945). Transitionalists represent about 5% of workforce. They are characterized by hard working people, cautious and financially conservative. Baby boomers are 40% of the workforce. They are egocentric, work defines them and are full of expectations from everyone. Generation X comes in the shadow of the influential Boomers. They work to live, are cynical and have developed behaviors of independence. Generation Y also called the Millennials grew up in consumer world and digital media and internet. Millennials are the largest most diverse generation in any organisation.
Defining Generation Gap
Generation gap is the difference of outlook, thinking, opinions, beliefs, skills, attitudes and behaviors among two or three different generations. This happens due to the age gap between generations. But why must age bring about this gap between different generations? Because, every generation have their own set of experiences, values and ethics they have grown up with, style of working and behaving, their own outlook towards life. These factors are influenced by internal and external environmental factors, time and technology, education, awareness, cultures, interaction and communication. While the generation gap has been prevalent through all periods of history, it has only grown more prevalent in recent years.
Every generation has its own understanding of what is valuable for them. If for Baby Boomers, saving Rs.20 and taking a bus to work equals to saving precious money, for Gen Y taking a cab and saving time would be of more importance. If Gen X believes in hard work to get success, Gen Y thinking would be smart work to get what you want in life. These differences in opinions, thinking patterns and execution methods are what form the crux of the ‘Generation Gap’ aspect. Added to this, every generation has its own ways of communication, which would not necessarily be favored by the other generation. These varying aspects bring about clashes and unwanted disturbances in teamwork which could pose severe challenges if not handled efficiently and sensitively.
In a nutshell, generation gap challenges include the following:
different communication styles
different leadership styles
varying behavioral characteristics and work ethics
different outlook towards life
different expectations from life
different understanding of work/life balance
Different ways to resolve conflict
Behaviours and Expectations of Core Generations @ workplace
Every generation can be defined by certain stand-out characteristics, behaviors and work ethics
They are very hard-working and work best in teams. These individuals value everything in life, mainly because it has not come to them easily. They value time and will mostly be the first to arrive for meetings and functions. They expect to be consulted for important events and like to give advice as they believe they have a wealth of knowledge which they like to share. They often prioritize their work over everything else as this is what gives them a sense of self-worth. This generation lives by a set of values, will pay their bills on time, own a high sense of responsibility and have set patterns by which they live.
Generation X, called the "middle generation”, are more diverse and better educated than Baby Boomers. This generation came in the wake of two income parents.
Generation X came of age in an era of an economic and social revolution, where many baby boomers started breaking from their age old norms, when neutral families became a reality, where both parents had an income, rising divorce rates, an economy which was not steady and an advent in technology. With the change in environment, there were radical changes in mindset, behavior patterns, thinking and adaptation styles.
As women were joining the workforce and with both parents working, the Gen X kids were home alone for a large period of the day. As a result, Generation X is independent, resourceful, resilient and self-sufficient. They value freedom and responsibility in the workplace. They believe in flexi work style and work life balance. They are flexible and can adapt to change easily. They are very comfortable with technology and dislike being micro-managed since they know their responsibilities and do not shy away from taking ownership. They espouse a work hard-play hard mentality.
Generation Y/ Millennials
Also known as the millennials, this generation are nurtured and pampered by parents who want to give their children a more liberal upbringing, taking care of their every want and need. This generation has mostly received the best in education, clothes, food, lifestyle. Education and exposure to various developmental activities have made these millennials, confident, ambitious, and achievement-oriented. They bring this mind-set into their workplace and have high expectations of their employers. They enjoy and tend to seek new challenges at work, are not afraid to question authority. They are liberal, tech savvy and self-expressive and are willing to try out new ideas and new ways of doing things. They are street smart, believe in smart work and respect accomplishments more than authority. They are goal oriented and enjoy the good fast paced lifestyle.
Five Ways to Bridge the Generation Gap at Workplace
Every generation has its own strengths and weaknesses. Bridging the Generation Gap is one of the biggest challenges faced. It is not an easy task, but with the right understanding, empathy and resolve, this issue can be handled sensitively and productively.
To work together in harmony, each generation must recognize the strengths and skills of the other and be accommodating and supportive of each other to create a more cohesive culture.
Change Mindset - Avoid Stereotyping It is very easy to stereotype a generation but not the best thing to do. Stereotypes and mind-sets only create road blocks and make it difficult for two generations to collaborate. A prime example would be that Baby Boomers are considered technologically inept and are not open to changes. This can be unfair, that older people are unwilling to learn new things or that the younger generation are disrespectful. While there are differences within two generations, it is very important to understand these differences, rather than assuming and being judgmental of capabilities. This could cause resentment in both generation employees, which could create difficulties in the working environment. A good manager or leader must find ways to bridge this gap by being supportive, thus bringing out what’s best in all employees through camaraderie.
Adjust Communication Methods Create an environment where communication is transparent and inclusive. When you have different generations communicating freely, with a revved up understanding, everyone is heard and better decisions are made. Each generation will gain the benefit of being exposed to the other’s viewpoints and will begin to appreciate the differences their work ethics, communication, and their outlook towards life. For example, Baby Boomers could benefit from embracing the attitude of Gen Y towards work/life balance and ownership. Gen Y and Gen X could benefit with qualities of dedication and completion of Baby Boomers. Baby Boomers and Gen X could benefit with the Gen Y’s outlook towards life, and their ease with technology. Everyone benefits in this scenario. Every generation should be given the opportunity to present creative thoughts, complaints, ideas, and concerns. Communication should be in the form of a blend of content and technology, which should be acceptable by and comfortable for all generations to communicate with each another.
Training & Mentoring is Key Training and Mentoring plays a key role in ensuring a successful workplace, where all generations work in harmony, listen and learn from one another. Encourage older employees to mentor millennials and offer them the benefit of their expertise and experience. The older generation could gain by being exposed to fresh perspectives and creative ideas which come from the millenials. Provide opportunities for millenials to seek out advice from more experienced employees. This could help develop positive and productive working relations and provide them a platform for growth opportunities. Develop training courses which can bring all generations together where they can cohabit and work as a unified team. All these tools and strategies go a long way in reducing the gap caused by lack understanding and trust.
Culture of Mutual Respect and Understanding Create a company culture of mutual respect. Understand what the generations are looking for from you. While the older generation wants respect for their experience and expertise, the millennials want respect and appreciation. Here the common need is respect. If you are commanding a team which has older and younger team members, ensure that the older members do not feel sidelined. Respect their experience, and appreciate what they can contribute. Create individual development plans for all team members and give them opportunities for team involvement. Top this with constant, constructive feedback. Encourage big picture thinking and creativity. The millenials will love it and the older generation will not want to be left behind. Once this balance is mastered, it has a huge potential of offering some impressive results.
Maintain a Supportive Attitude. A supportive attitude from the boss has a huge impact on the productivity of the team members and goes a long way in ensuring employee effectiveness. Appreciate your employees and the work they do. Support them with the necessary tools and training if there is a gap in their productivity levels. For example – an older employee might not be as tech savvy as a Gen Y and might take a little longer to do the same task. Do not reprimand him for this. This is where you step in and support him in various ways. This approach sheds positivity on their work and you'll have a much better chance of getting through to them. As a team lead or boss, be supportive of all employees and the work they do, regardless of their generation. In time you will have a team who are not only dedicated but who will not mind going that extra mile for you.
Coming out of the old mindset where generations and their capabilities are concerned is very important. Re-evaluate routines and create a cohesive working environment for your team. This may serve your business well, bringing about higher rates of both productivity and employee engagement.
Generation gap scenarios are bound to happen no matter how you manage your team. Use the tips given above reduce the gap to make your workplace a comfortable setting to do business in. Just understand – it’s all about the attitude and the right approach.
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