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How to Address Generation Gaps in the Workforce

Understanding and embracing differences are keys to a productive environment.

A typical workplace can have as many as four different generations working side by side, and while there are benefits to a multigenerational office, age differences in work habits, expectations and communications styles can cause discord between employees. Maintaining a productive workplace requires understanding--and embracing--generational differences.

Understanding the Divide

Although many members of the Mature Generation (born before 1946) have retired, this older group is still contributing to the workforce. They tend to respect authority and value hard work. Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) tend to be very focused on work and desire recognition. Generation X (born between 1965 and 1978) tend to embrace diversity and seek work/life balance. Millennials (born between 1979 and 2000) enjoy multitasking and seek collaboration and meaningful work.

While these are generalizations, each generation has been influenced by economic, political and social events that have shaped their work styles. Matures prefer clear direction and work well within a hierarchy. Boomers prefer meetings, while Gen Xers, many of whom were latchkey kids, tend to be independent and enjoy working alone. Millennials, some raised by so-called helicopter parents, are more likely to need direction and feedback.

Embracing Differences

Be as flexible as possible and engage the generations in ways they are most comfortable with. Use different communication styles: memos, letters and personal notes for Matures, and text and instant messaging for Millennials. Phone calls and personal interaction may work best for Boomers, but Gen Xers are more likely to prefer communicating through email.

Educate employees on differing communication styles. Boomers attending a meeting may feel that Millennials are being rude as they tap away on their tablets, but this always-connected generation may simply be taking notes or looking up pertinent information. To address these communication differences, discuss whether or not to allow mobile devices during meetings, and outline usage rules that all generations can agree on.

Generational differences also impact how employees prefer to be rewarded. Boomers may value a promotion and a new title, while a Gen Xer may be more satisfied with time off or a flexible schedule.

There are a variety of online and classroom training programs and books available on managing and working within a multigenerational office that can be helpful in developing a work culture that celebrates all generations.


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