There have always been multiple generations working side by side. Fresh-faced newcomers, the established middle generation that holds most of the management roles and the older generation of senior executives who are 30 or 40 years into their careers. These age groups each come with their own generational differences, but do they cause friction in the workplace?
The modern workplace is generally filled with Generation Y, Generation X and baby boomers all coexisting in the same office. But as more boomers work past retirement age, and tech-savvy millennials continue to graduate and enter the workforce, sometimes, without open spaces to fill. Now more than ever, the differences in the values, communication styles and work habits of each generation are becoming increasingly complex. To make matters more complicated, the post-millennials, or Generation Z, are quickly approaching college age and will be the next generation to join the ranks of working professionals.
A 4 generation work space will become the norm, in the very near future. Leaders will have the challenge of integrating newer workers while still respecting the seniority and experience of older ones.
“As new generations join the workforce, there is a period of adaptation that’s required on both ends,” said Rich Milgram, CEO of career network Beyond.com. “New talent needs to respect and assimilate, while established talent needs to adjust and remain flexible. Companies should challenge their employees to rise above [generational differences], think outside their comfort zone and tackle problems together.”
The trick here is to create a multigenerational workplace that is more productive, efficient and harmonious than years past. With communication being the largest difference in how generations interact, tackling this issue head on, is step number one.
Generation Y sends text messages, tweets and instant messages to communicate, while baby boomers and older Gen Xers tend to prefer phone calls and emails. Add in the fact that younger workers tend to use abbreviations and far more informal language than their baby boomer counter parts and you’ve got a recipe for a serious communication breakdown.
“In some instances older workers have been accustomed to communicating, particularly to senior management, with much more formality,” said Dana Brownlee, founder of training and management consulting firm Professionalism Matters. “They may equate this formality in communication with respect. When they’re not [given] the same formality [in communications], they may misinterpret this as a lack of respect.”
Brownlee recommended that leaders and employees make a concerted effort to communicate with their colleagues in the ways each person prefers. Bringing staff members of different generations together for face-to-face team-building exercises and ice breakers can help break down some of the barriers that can occur with digital communications, she said.
Another stark contrast between working generations is cultural expectations. In most typical office settings, the workplace evolves to keep up with changing technologies and mobile work trends. With these adjustments, a consequent shift in cultural expectations also takes place. This particular transition can be harder on older workers, who are used to having performance measured by the number of hours spent at their desk.
“For many younger managers, time spent in the office is not as vital as the results you produce,” said career expert Kerry Hannon in an article she wrote for AARP. “Your well-honed work ethic of being an early bird at your desk might not impress. Teleworking tends to be looked on more favorably, especially if you can get more work done by not cooling your heels in rush-hour commutes.”
Generation Y values and expects a healthy work-life balance, and tends to be the face of the “have it all” generation with both family and career taking an equal space in their importance meter.
“Younger workers are more likely to come from families where both parents were working, and therefore place a greater premium on work-life balance,” Maroney said. “Their older co-workers may have expected to sacrifice a lot of their personal time to the job. Having seen parents lose their jobs despite their loyalty, [millennials] are looking for jobs where they can have a life outside of work.”
While allowing individuals to work in the style that’s best for them has the potential to fix this imbalance in cultural expectations in the workplace is a large undertaking for most companies, a small start can be to accept and acknowledge the efforts of each team member, regardless of their work style.
How does generation gaps your workplace affect your offices’ dynamics?