What Needs To “Click” Between Different Generations In The Workforce

Studies show that we spend 57% of the hours we are awake at work. Considering this amount, it goes without saying that we would all like to get along with our colleagues; to work in ‘harmony’.

Today’s multigenerational workforce consists of employees who have a broad range of skills, values, expectations and behaviors. In 2017’s work environments, forget about simple contrasts like ‘IQ’ or ‘EQ’ – the term ‘Generational Intelligence’ has now emerged. In other words, our understanding of employee engagement has drastically changed. There have always been several generations present in the workplace, although, what differs today is the rapid rise of technology-savvy employees whose attitudes can be more readily impacted by feeling any mistrust, restriction or being patronized.

Each generation is unique, yet, once they are all combined, they can either benefit from each others diversity or on the contrary, potentially cause negative stereotyping and a whole new set of challenges.

Combining different age groups and levels of experience can bring many alluring upsides to a business, in any given industry. Development is formed at both ends of the scope: older generations have a taste of Millennial enthusiasm for learning and trying new things; younger generations learn and acquire skills from former, ‘wiser’ generations.

On the other side, negative stereotyping might involve older workers perceiving Millennials as being too “Tech-Oriented” or too greedy to challenge society’s norms. Younger workers can see previous generations as too conventional or close-minded. The real issue underlying generational differences is that today’s older adults remain in the workforce longer than ever while the younger unemployment rate is in many countries, noticeably high. According to a survey by Lee Hecht Harrison, “more than 60 percent of employers are experiencing intergenerational conflict. However, those very differences can also lead to increased creativity and productivity—and ultimately to business success”.

But why does it have to be so complicated? Isn’t age just a number after all?

Baby Boomers, born between 1946-1964, architects of today’s Millennials, are ones who have worked their entire lives and who are considered true workaholics. They are “conversation clever”, preferring to talk things out. They are extremely work-centric, goal-oriented and quite competitive. Boomers have formed legacies and seek respect from younger generations. In this sense, we may consider Baby Boomers as ‘’Mentors’’.

Differently, Gen Xers, born between 1965-1976, are all about independence, visual information and money. Unlike the boomers, Gen Xers are not conversation clever, making them more keen to use today’s different forms of technology. They are truly engaged people who get their jobs done efficiently. They are driven by the important fear of losing their job. Gen Xers are one of the few who can make sense with the world through pictures. We could describe Gen Xers as the “Go-getters”. Those who frustrate Gen Xers the most are Millennials, born between 1977-1995. While they are having a heck of a time in this digital era, they are the most loved generation: fully transparent and fearless. Millennials want to constantly learn and face new challenges; they don’t think in words, they think in actions. They are the creators of their own world (Uber, Airbnb…). When in distress, the Millennial becomes impatient – thus makes it harder for anyone of any age to address him/her. Millennials can be somewhat assimilated to “Individualists”.

As described, each generation has different characteristics. One size does not fit all. Evidently, this can make the communication flow a bit odd between them. If the intergenerational communication can be improved, overall stress is reduced and in result, they can work efficiently together.  Generational communication isn’t easy to obtain – as each generation responds differently to leadership and technology. Their preferred methods of communication differ as well.

“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” George Orwell

Perhaps, if all employees have a consistent, convenient platform to communicate, it can improve that ambiguity. Although, while the quantity of communication might be increased, it doesn’t necessarily mean that quality will too. “A diverse and inclusive workplace requires open communication with an awareness of these growing generational differences. It is a matter of strong leadership, embracing new approaches, and communicating in a way that engages all employees.” Says Susan Hannam, in Engaging a Multi-Generational Workforce.

Once a company has the ability to recognize the communication issues and can come up with solutions, the working conditions and culture changes ensues. In result, building collaborative relationships can be easier. This leads to a valuable engagement from employees: which is more important than ever in a multigenerational environment!

Communication and building relationships are not the only factors that will make generations ‘click’. A series of additional factors need to be considered too – as they vary importantly from one generation to another. These might include;

  • Decision making processes
  • Learning styles
  • Social influences and expectations

Businesses must pay close attention to generational differences. If challenges occur, solutions have to be suggested, tested and adopted. Ultimately, everyone has to respect the different talents and strengths of each other, no matter which generation that represents.

Great ideas come in all shapes and sizes – it’s part of embracing diversity. If it’s not possible in 2017, will it ever be?

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