Today’s workforce includes collaboration from five generations. In prior years, we had three to four generations in the workplace, but since people are living longer and working longer these days – America has to learn how to bridge demographics with vast differences in work behavior.
One of the biggest workplace challenges is getting the generations to see past their biases and learn to work together toward common goals. Since culture and major historical events of different times shape the worldview of each generation and how they approach work, they tend to differ on everything from work hours, dress code, working remotely and inter-office dynamic.
Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd, authors of “The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today” note in a Harvard Business Review article titled Mentoring Millennials:
In four years  Millennials—the people born between 1977 and 1997—will account for nearly half the employees in the world. This new generation of employees have very different workforce behaviors and expectations, compared to the older generations.
This seismic shift in the global workforce means there will have to be innovative approaches to bridging the generation gap and workplace practices.
Here is an overview of the five generations by birth years, according to The Center for Generational Kinetics:
- Generation Z (iGen) – Born 1996 and After
- Millennials, (Generation Y) – Born 1977 to 1995
- Generation X: Born 1965 to 1976
- Baby Boomers: Born 1946 to 1964
- Traditionalists: Born 1945 and Before
Leveraging Experience and Talents for Workplace Harmony
If you look at how the world has changed over the past 75+ years, there have not only been major technological advances, but also drastic changes in social acceptances, behaviors and culture. The differences from each generation have impacted the people during these times, and they each bring unique talents, communication and workstyles to their place of work.
If business managers and leaders are able to understand, communicate, motivate and train different generations for a collective team of employees with varied talents, they are ahead of the game to set up their business for success.
Here are four tips to help your business bridge the workplace generation gap, as diversity can be a huge asset to your workplace:
1. Keep employees engaged and collaborative
Everyone, regardless of their age or generation, wants to feel valued. Management needs to make it clear how each of their employees’ specific roles benefit the company, as well as help them accomplish their personal goals. By building teams of workers with unique talents, projects get different perspectives and collaboration – which can help companies reach different audiences and see angles they may not have been aware of without the varying opinions. It’s important to do the following with each employee:
- Ask workers for their input on their projects, and if possible, let them choose the ones they want to focus their efforts on.
- Ask workers who they’d like to have on their teams, but also make sure it’s balanced.
- Make sure every person is included in the planning and brainstorming sessions, so that everyone’s voice gets heard.
- Enable older workers to pass on institutional knowledge that might possibly be lost if seasoned workers retire or leave the office.
- Provide classes or opportunities for employees to engage in for their career advancement. Make sure their bosses are aware of their career goals so that they can help each of them achieve success.
2. Create mentoring opportunities
Partnering younger workers with their more seasoned counterparts can be a very positive tactic. Business experience and specific market expertise can help younger generations learn trades, while empowering older workers in a positive way, while also promoting collaboration. Here are other benefits that can come from workplace mentoring:
- Younger workers can learn the value of structure and face-to-face interaction from older workers.
- Seasoned workers can pick up new technology skills and begin to embrace work-life balance from Generation Z and Millennials.
- The different generations can bridge their skillsets to come up with new and faster ways to complete tasks.
3. Take Advantage Of Positivity: Recruit Enthusiastic Workers
Skills can be learned on the job, but attitude is not easily taught. Business leaders need to keep attitude and behaviors in mind when hiring, to predict whether the new recruit will make a good colleague and positively impact the workplace. Generation Y is known to be very enthusiastic about work, which might revive jaded teams—or workplaces that need a little energy. Here’s how management might address recruiting:
- Identify underlying behavior characteristics and soft skills that can help move a business forward.
- Recruit employees who will compliment your current team.
- Consider how attitude and project positivity and energy can help with productivity.
4. Deal With Conflict Proactively
With different generations, personalities and workstyles, there’s bound to be conflict, on occasion. When managed effectively, the tension can lead to innovation and greater collaboration. Effective leaders and managers help their teams work through their differences to understand the strengths each person brings to the project. It’s important to have a process in place for employees to do the following:
- Raise issues
- Voice their perspectives
- Resolve conflict in a productive manner
Here are a couple other things to consider:
- Traditionalists and Boomers are seasoned employees who often have impressive knowledge of their industry and organization. They also typically have a lot of workplace experience and can help younger generations learn, if managed effectively.
- Generation X can act as a bridge between younger and older workers.
Workplace Collaboration Is ‘The Name of the Game’
Along with bridging the generation gap, businesses must also consider creative uses of new technology to foster productivity and encourage growth in today’s evolving workforce. Top performing businesses are those that align a strong technical infrastructure and information systems to support mobile devices, the use of social media and the use of cloud-based systems. Most importantly, though, these businesses need to provide their workers with the necessary training and support to not only take advantage of these tools, but also work together in harmony.
In a global Forbes survey of business executives, 82% say cloud-based collaboration tools accelerate business results. Effectively incorporating technologies like mobility and cloud-based solutions help to attract and retain the most talented workers across the generations.
The tips mentioned above to help foster workplace collaboration and productivity only work if a plan is put into place that includes workplace tools, process and management practices. By embracing different generational workstyles and talents, your company can achieve a more innovative workplace by bridging multigenerational talent and perspective.