Four Ways Your Business Can Bridge The Generation Gap

Today’s workplace now includes employees from four different generations spanning 1946 to the present. Work habits, social values, communication styles and even the choice of emojis in messages can create a chasm among employees of different ages. Working remotely can also exacerbate generation gaps, a major consideration given that 36.2 million Americans are projected to go mobile by 2025.

Here are solutions to four generation-gap difficulties to help ensure age-related tensions don’t upend your business goals.

1. Communication Barriers That Impede Productivity

The influence of technology on basic work functions can’t be overestimated. But it’s also worth bearing in mind that different generations can have vastly different experiences and comfort levels with today’s virtual tools. While a Generation Z employee (born in 1996 or later) practically grew up surrounded by screens, a Gen Xer (born between 1965 and 1980) may still find Zoom meetings uncomfortable and unproductive.

An effective approach is to not rely too heavily on any one communication style or tool for your company. While the pandemic has heightened our dependence on video meeting platforms like Zoom and Google Meet, as well as messaging applications such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, don’t make these your only outlets.

Instead, talk face-to-face or on the phone, if and when possible. Take note that systems like Slack also have a “huddle” function that lets you jump on a voice call with a coworker without the formality of a video meeting. Remember, too, that longer-form written communication via email can help clarify more complex demands that might seem truncated via text or messaging app.

Bottom line, make sure you integrate some “old school” communication to put employees of all ages at ease. This will also guarantee that they’re productive and involved in your business mission.

2. Differing Workplace/Work Routine Expectations That Create Divisions

Expectations for the workplace and what constitutes satisfying work can vary greatly among generations. For example, a recent RippleMatch survey showed that much of Gen Z balks at the idea of a traditional 9-to-5 job and heavily favors remote work. Thus, you may find the need to referee among competing assumptions regarding some basic workplace parameters, such as:

• Start and leave times

• Time off policies

• Accommodations for issues related to mental health and well-being, etc.

• Expression of values/advocacy for causes at work and on social media

• Work-life balance

• Remote vs. in-office work and hybrid situations

The key is to balance consistency with flexibility to keep everyone satisfied and united. While your current company policy may require employees to be physically present in the office, for instance, adopting an “as long as the work gets done” approach can cater to multiple generations simultaneously: Baby boomers can leverage the structure of in-office work to which they’re accustomed while millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) will be more comfortable working according to their own schedule, and even sometimes remotely.

3. Divergent Ideas On Diversity, Equity And Inclusion (DE&I) Initiatives And Guidelines

Another workplace component near and dear to Gen-Z hearts, as noted in the aforementioned survey, is the way a company “walks the walk” with regard to their (DE&I) approach. This consideration is tailor-made for a multi-generational office, as age is one important component of overall diversity. In fact, a recent Harvard Business Review article noted that traditional definitions of diversity must expand to include not only age, but also socioeconomic status and lived experience.

To that end, addressing the generation gap at your company can be an integral part of your overall DE&I initiatives, which may also focus on equality and engagement related to:

• Race

• Gender and gender identification

• Ethnicity

• Sexual orientation

Keep in mind that along with celebrating differences, your diversity policy should also foster belonging to maintain a cohesive and productive workforce. By soliciting input from employees and sharing each step of your diversity policy development with them, you can create an environment of mutual trust in which everyone’s preferences are respected.

4. Assumptions That All Employees Are Motivated By The Same Things

Just as stereotyping workers from a particular generation can be damaging—for example, “Baby boomers don’t understand technology and are resistant to change”—so too can believing that all employees respond to the same motivators in the same way.

This applies both to the reasons why different generations are working, and how management can inspire them. For instance, a baby boomer may put their nose to the grindstone with an eye toward stashing away more money for retirement, while a millennial may seek to balance paying off a student loan with spending more time with a growing family. Therefore the boomer may be better incentivized with a bonus, while the millennial will appreciate an afternoon off as a reward for completing a particularly grueling project.

With a little effort, the characteristics that distinguish each generation can be harnessed to benefit your company. You might even consider cross-generational mentor programs that focus on specific business goals. For example, pair an uber-communicative boomer with a tech-savvy millennial or Gen-Zer with the objective of boosting your social media reach. Innovative, flexible initiatives like these can help keep your “blended family” of employees happy, productive and loyal.

Forbes Article Link: Four Ways Your Business Can Bridge the Generation Gap

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