Managing Different Generations in the Workplace: Part FourThe modern workplace is now home to four generations of employees—Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z. Each has its own unique perspectives and varying experience levels. Although generational differences can affect everything from team building to company morale, managers can leverage these differences to create a cohesive work environment and an effective training experience.
In our previous posts, we discussed Generations X, Y and Z. Now it’s time to look at all four generations and discuss how leadership can bridge communication gaps in the workplace.
Using Generational Differences to Improve Training
Training magazine explains that the core values of each generation can vary widely. Gen Xers and millennials desire an even alignment between work and home life, while Generation Z longs for social opportunities. As a result, older generational employees may view Gen Zers as less loyal to the business. And in turn, the youngest staff members might see their counterparts as workaholic stalwarts who refuse to change.
But playing on these differences in the training setting can increase learner retention and build relationships between the generations. Managers should mix generations during instructor-led training and design the training to include activities that energize each generation like lectures, group activities or online polls. Gen Xers can impart experiential wisdom to their younger constituents, who can reciprocate by sharing their knowledge of the latest technology and cultural trends.
Accommodating for Communication Styles
The generations also handle communication differently from one another. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers tend to prefer direct and immediate contact, such as phone or face-to-face conversations. Conversely, millennials and Gen Zers tend to favor e-mail and text messaging. However, they all want frequent, quality feedback.
To avoid crossed signals, Forbes suggests that managers set clear guidelines for what’s expected from company communications. This way, all age groups are aware of one another’s learning preferences and aim to bridge the gaps. Too much reliance on a single approach might alienate some employees, so a combination of face-to-face meetings and emails is the right medium to communicate across generations.
Ditch the Stereotypes and Mentor Instead
Finally, the three generations of employees are driven by different motivators. Generation X workers have entrepreneurial spirits that are fed by completing projects individually, while both the younger generations enjoy working collaboratively with like-minded, creative people. Millennials and Gen Zers seek more guidance and acknowledgement in comparison to Gen Xers, which can cause misunderstandings, Forbes magazine explains.
As with most things, responsibility lies with all the parties. Leaders need to understand the importance of feedback, but Generations Y and Z have to realize that praise isn’t handed out with ease. The beginning of real communication is understanding what the other person prefers and finding a good middle-ground. Assuming particular intention—like a Baby Boomer accusing a millennial of disrespect because she emails rather than picking up the phone—is a recipe for conflict. And relying on stereotypes—like Baby Boomers are technologically challenged or Gen Yers have no loyalty to the organization—can really get in the way.
One way to aid this kind of understanding is to form mentoring partnerships between employees of the different cohorts. Each generation has something to contribute, and it’s often in one-on-one relationships that this becomes apparent. Managers and trainers can use this technique to enhance learning, deepen understanding and build stronger communication between the generations. Realizing that there is more than one way to see the world, and learning from each other, can lead to employee growth, new ideas and unique solutions to business problems.