The fact that there are five generations in the workplace has been a topic for quite some time. Headlines and scholarly titles like “Managing Your Multigenerational Workforce” and “Thanks, Kiddo! A Survival Guide for Professional Generation Xers” have cast a shining light on this phenomenon. Other scholars and professionals in the space, like Leah Georges, Ph.D., and Mary Donohue, Ph.D., have continued exploring generations in the workforce. A common theme within the research on intergenerational workforces is that different generations have a great deal to offer one another.
Each generation’s unique perspectives and approaches to work can spark insights into the current workforce’s how, why and what. These perspectives have shaped, and will continue to shape, work — and learning — as we know it. However, managing generational differences to ensure employees work together collaboratively instead of allowing differences to drive even greater wedges between them. For instance, divisions such as the one produced by “OK boomer” — a catchphrase and internet meme used to dismiss or mock attitudes typically associated with baby boomers — need to be overcome in order to facilitate a productive, positive work and learning environment for all employees.
Working Across Generational Divides
To ease tensions between younger and older employees, it’s important to be aware of implicit bias, facilitate perspective-taking and focus on similarities rather than differences.
Often, perceptions and implicit beliefs that generations hold about one another have a bi-directional impact on the relationship. By actively being mindful, developing open communication and practicing active listening, learners can increase their self-awareness and ensure that these perceptions and beliefs are not impacting their choices, decisions and relationships.
Perspective-taking and focusing on similarities are other tactics to assist with being aware and mindful of such perceptions and implicit biases and beliefs. To gain greater insight into others’ perspectives, encourage your learners to approach conversations with curiosity, ask open-ended questions and paraphrase or summarize what was said. It can also help to visualize themselves in the other person’s unique situation.
It’s also important to use mentorship or coaching to allow members of different generations to work with and learn from one another and gain a deeper understanding of another person’s thoughts, perspectives, communication styles and life experiences. A common theme that connects these aspects is psychological safety, which is essential for a thriving multigenerational workforce. One way to increase psychological safety is to demonstrate openness to ideas and suggestions by seeking consultation from members of various generations. In doing so, they will feel like valued members of their organization and can provide valuable input from both their individual and generational perspectives.
By establishing psychological safety, employees will also be more willing to explore implicit biases and take on the perspectives of others, which would dovetail into mentorship or coaching partnerships.
The above suggestions and strategies focus on similarities among the generations and individuals within a given generation. When similarities are acknowledged, there are excessive opportunities to humanize and develop compassion for whole generations and individuals. Despite the differences generations have among each other, the experienced similarities more on the individual level allow for the generational difference and tensions to ease because individuals are seen for who they are, not just as their generation, which is only one aspect of a person’s identity.
One of the most significant benefits of having five generations working and learning together is the overwhelming opportunities to acknowledge, celebrate, and utilize their differences and similarities for improved business results.
There is fantastic potential to decrease the focus on generational differences and instead how we can learn from each other — no matter which generation we fall into. Applying the strategies discussed in this article will position your multigenerational workforce for success long into the future.