Overcoming the generation gap

The dynamics at play in today’s global workforce are complex and fascinating – not least because there are now four generations working together, and sometimes five.

Each generation has its own idiosyncrasies, preferences, management styles and personal goals, which can lead to misunderstandings and even conflict at work.

It’s important to understand the motivations and reasoning behind each generation’s characteristics. For example, people in Generation Z, born since 1996, have grown up with technology all around them, gaining their first mobile phone as a child and never knowing the pre-Internet world.

Meanwhile the Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964) and Generation X (1965 to 1976) remember the workplace before PCs and email. They often prefer to speak face to face than operate in a virtual world.

Generation Y, or the Millennials, make up much of today’s workforce and are now aged between 25 and 43. Sometimes referred to as the Snowflake generation, there has been extensive commentary on this generation’s sense of entitlement – although in reality this is difficult to evidence.

The reason that we divide humanity into these various generations is to drive understanding and insight, yet it often takes a negative turn that end up with sweeping generalisations and division.

As leaders, our role is to find ways to unite the very diverse people that make up today’s international workforce. There are many ways to do this, but the methods that have proven successful in our own projects and placements include the following:

  1. Encouraging multi-generational team working. The best way to get people to accept each other’s differences is to get them to work together. This might be through coaching and mentoring or by ensuring diversity across project teams and committees. People naturally seek out the things they have in common, so this can be a very effective approach.

  2. Establishing clear cultural values. As leaders, it’s important to be clear about how our people are expected to behave. There can be fundamental differences in how different generations like to work – a perfect example being the older generations’ preference for fixed, office-base hours versus Gen Y and Z’s desire to work remotely, to their own timetable. The conflict is easily resolved by setting the right context – in this case that it’s the output and the goal that matter, not the timing or location of work.

  3. Embedding technology that drives collaboration. All generations want to feel accepted and valued at work as part of a cohesive team. Collaboration is at the root of this – yet this can be challenging in today’s workplace, where teams can be spread across different locations and even time zones. Make sure your organisation adopts the right technology to bring people together, to work concurrently on a shared platform, and to interact regularly.

  4. Communicating at all levels. Another commonality across all ages of employee is that they each need and value of communication. Particularly in the digital age, where new technology and transformation are the norm, it is essential to ensure that everyone in your organisation understands the direction of travel and the reasoning behind it.

As a global provider of outcome-focused interim leaders we have extensive insights into what works in diverse organisations, and the circumstances that lead to the need for change.

Without exception, employee engagement is fundamental, and cohesion between generations is both fully achievable and a major contributor to future success.

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