Three Ways to Bridge the Generational Gap in the Workplace
Bridging the generational gap in the workplace is more important now than ever before.
The generational gap is a real issue faced by many workplaces today. With baby boomers reluctant to retire and millennials taking over as the largest generation in the US labor force, generational differences among employees are causing tensions to rise at the workplace.
Rise of the Millennials
Millennials have finally surpassed Generation X-ers as the largest generation in US labor force, and although the age for baby boomers to retire has come, a third of the generation are still working. With improved health and the rise in the cost of living, baby boomers as a whole are not looking to sit idle anytime soon, causing them to continue working post-retirement. Because of which many older workers have found themselves reluctantly working under younger managers.
In some cases, managers find themselves with older employees more hard-working and loyal than their younger counterparts. Just as in the Robert De Niro movie The Intern, where a 70-year old widower interns under his significantly younger boss, the generational gap can open an opportunity for both the older employee and their younger boss to learn something from each other.
But in other cases, older workers might resent working under someone as old as their child – or grandchild for that matter. Although studies show far more similarities than differences, subtle dissimilarities do arise bringing tension and politics to the office.
One way to close generational gaps is to think of it as a behavior and attitude focus, not a generational focus. Following that line of thinking, there are three great ways to unite your workforce and resolve any age-related issues.
Don’t segment the workplace, creating a wider generational gap
Don’t categorize your organization according to age. Grouping older people and younger people separately for certain tasks is not the best way to settle any differences between the two. Isolating different generations will actually increase tensions and increase conflict.
Founder and CEO of PeopleResults, Patti Johnson, says, “Anytime you start categorizing an entire generation, think about your high school lunchroom. For me, that lunchroom was wildly different in almost every way. A generation is bound by common experiences, but that doesn’t mean everyone is the same.”
Introduce reverse mentoring programs
Reverse mentoring programs are an initiative where older executives are paired with younger employees and mentored. The mentoring goes beyond being helpful. It can serve as more of a brain dump of decades of experience providing an additional perspective, by turning the generational gap into a learning opportunity.
A senior executive in their fifties for example, who has years of experience and is highly capable in their line of work but lags with technology or social media, can be paired with an employee in their twenties who is up-to-date on current trends but not so good with communication and project management. The executive can learn some of the more effective and productive uses for their smartphone and computer from their “mentor”, and in the process teach them how to communicate and deal with the office environment.
Major companies like Accenture, BP, IBM, Procter & Gamble, and Time Warner have formal reverse mentoring programs to bring older and younger employees closer while boosting profits. The popularity of the program is credited to Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, when he realized in the nineties that upper management at GE had much to learn about the Internet. He mandated that top executives at the company (including himself) take on a reverse mentor to learn from their younger peers, and set a precedent for other companies.
Design multiple ways of working to bridge the generational gap
Focus on multiple ways of working rather than one. You can assign more than one option for your employees to work, including multiple devices, working hours, work preferences and ways to get stuff done at the office. This allows different kinds of people to adapt and work in the most productive way.
Consider open vs. closed floor plans. The key is not to think about one type of floor plan or way of working, but designing multiple ways of working. Look at your office space and design it in such a way that multiple kinds of work can be done there.
When doing strategic planning and marketplace research, include all generations in the discussions. Each has a valuable perspective. Despite what you may think of someone based on the clothes they wear or their preferred work hours, there is something to be gained. Step beyond the box and the walls of the workplace and find those who have a common goal of the company’s success as well as their own. Leverage that commonality into a winning formula for all.