Right after you thought that getting that young tech junkie to work with your Chief Technology Officer on a systems integration project will relieve you of the power struggle between the IT head and his counterparts; you find yourself dealing with another issue. And this times it comes dressed as the generation gap.
The fundamental difference in the way two generations approach work and related activities can actually become counterproductive and lead to workplace discord if ignored or not channelised well. The two generations that have the toughest time getting along are the baby boomers or the super seniors (40‑67 years) and millennials (20‑33 years). The tension between them is as palpable as the one between grandparents and grandchildren or between the school principal and the head boy.
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While the former are a slow brewed coffee who likes to hunker down their desks for as long as they can, the latter is like a quick espresso who likes to mingle with colleagues and collaborate and work in piecemeal. In the middle of these two is the Gen-Xers (33‑49 years) who sport mixed hues of both. Their struggle is to maintain a work-life balance, while managing inter-generational neutrality.
If you observe stereotypes such as millennials’ perception of super seniors to be change averse, non-creative and slow to respond and former considering millennials to have short attention span, superficial understanding and downright arrogant, it is time to step in and call for cease fire.
Here are some suggestions that may help you manage the generational tension at your workplace and get the maximum output out of a diverse team of young and old.
- Set the stage right at the beginning:
When you have a diverse team of young, old, and those straddling in between, it is best to set the expectations right from the very beginning. The team should know that the older and elder members will enrich the team with experiences, nitty-gritty and ground-level knowledge. While the younger ones will be quick to adapt, get in loads of technical knowledge and creative ideas. The team should be encouraged to embrace the changes and imbibe the best of both the worlds.
- Keep the communication lines open:
Be mindful of the fact that people have different styles of communicating. The millennials may consider shooting an email as sufficient to inform their absence, or prefer to connect to clients through social media. The older generation may think that an email or text message looses the nuances and the tone of their communication; hence they prefer to call and chat. But let all lines and modes of communication be made acceptable and appreciated. Don’t run down the significance of Twitter, Google Docs or Gchat or other social media tools over the telephone line or in-person interaction. Remember, while the younger ones are a generation of emojis, the older are one of emotions.
- Train according to preference:
Offer different types of training to accommodate everyone’s learning style. The millennials may prefer interactive online tutorials or podcasts, while the Gen-Xers may prefer an independent learning environment. The most different of the lot would be the baby boomers/super seniors who may be more interested in handouts or videos. It is essential to cater to individual training needs and styles or take a middle route rather than forcing one to concede to the other.
- Foster the culture of asking for help:
Whether one younger member needs help in understanding statistics, operating procedures or plant and machinery parts, ratios and variables or one elder member needs assistance in using the new software, decoding and downloading a new application, sprucing up a presentation, learning to apply new technical tools; the best way to go about is to handhold each other. Encourage the elder generation to teach and learn, and younger to ask for help and provide support to everyone in cracking into the e-route to things.
- Consider a flexible work policy:
Giving people the flexibility to time and place of work sheds inhibitions and relieves pressure to sit at the desks until the neighbour decided to shut his laptop down. A senior and elder employee must have spend most of his professional life sticking to the principle of putting in 12 to 14 hours a day at his desks, the millennial might prefer to work in spurts, out of a hustling bustling coffee shop, from the conference room or from the sands of the beach. The Gen-Xers might want to run a personal errand or pick their child from school and work into the silence of the night. If the project allows location and time neutrality, provide flexibility of workplace to everyone.
- Bond beyond work:
Letting your hair down at a team outing or taking your team out for drinks and games may be a good way to encourage people to know their colleagues in a fun way. Find activities and interests that cater to all age groups such that everyone gets a chance to interact and know each other’s strengths, passions, and talents. It may come as a surprise to find that people across age groups and demographics have more similarities than they imagined. The new techie may be in thrilled to know that his 50-something colleague has the entire collection of dark metal rock and those bands which have become legends of today.
Remember, there is unity in diversity if you are able to bring out the strengths of every individual and appreciate them for who they are, and not berate them for what they are not. The old timers bring wisdom, knowledge and commitment, while the younger lot gets in creativity, energy and passion.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)