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The workplace dynamic is constantly evolving. Digital transformation, cultural trends and shifts in interpersonal communication impact how employees are interacting with each other at work.
It is then safe to say that different values and experiences have shaped the attitudes of the four generations currently sharing a workspace.
So is the intergenerational gap at work a bunch of bogus or is there some truth to it?
Baby boomers (1946-64) are technologically inept
Tech entrepreneur Steve Jobs belonged to the Baby Boomer generation. Now imagine referring to him as ‘technologically inept’. While Boomers aren’t the first to use the cutting-edge technology that is available today, their generation has successfully produced some of the greatest tech giants.
Gen X (1965 – 1976) are stuck up and reject new ideas
Gen Xers operate from the ‘sink or swim’ perspective. They place significant importance on job security and insist on having fool-proof business plans that ensure success. Having witnessed several layoffs in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, Gen X is naturally skeptical and prefer to keep their personal lives separate from work.
Millennials (1977 – 1995) are lazy and entitled
Millennials in the workplace believe in working smarter and faster. They place flexibility and work-life balance over taking home fat paychecks. At the end of the work day, millennials want to feel a purposeful connection with their jobs and thrive on grabbing opportunities that allow them to make a difference.
Gen Z (1996- Present) switches jobs at the drop of a hat
The tech native generation value learning and growth at work above everything else. If the job they are currently in is incapable of providing them with the tools needed to succeed, Gen Z will not hesitate to look for other opportunities.
The generation gap is not as scary as it is made out to be. The key to closing the gap is to understand what drives each generation and fend off negative stereotypes.
Since these four generations are clearly driven by different motives, is it realistically possible to connect them at work?
Yes! Take for example Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric. In 1999, he pioneered the concept of ‘reverse-mentoring’ by pairing 500 senior and junior employees in hopes that the youngest would teach the oldest how to navigate changing technology. The experiment was a roaring success and inspired other leading organizations to create their own reverse-mentoring programs. A 2018 Deloitte survey has also reported that 43% of Millennials (currently the largest chunk of the workforce) had plans to quit their jobs in the next two years. Besides the obvious learning benefits, reverse-mentoring can also maximize employee retention.
Based on seven years of research, Jennifer J. Deal a research scientist with the Center for Creative Leadership found that being able to trust supervisors, being open to constructive feedback, having opportunities to learn on the job and respecting employees at all levels were consistent expectations across generations. This brings us to the burning question: – If employees all want the same thing, then what is causing such intergenerational conflict at work?
The answer is simple: Miscommunication.
In the traditional sense of the term, miscommunication is the failure to get a message across correctly. But when dealing with an intergenerational gap at work, it also refers to the massive amount of institutional knowledge that is not being passed on from one generation to another. A 2019 Boomer Survey published in Forbes stated that only 18% of Boomers shared all their knowledge with younger colleagues.
Instead of getting hung up on the challenges faced due to the intergeneration gap at work, organizations will benefit from embracing age diversity and using the strengths from each generation to build a more agile workforce. This includes ensuring the transfer of knowledge between the oldest and youngest employees in the workforce.
Our preconceived notions and biases about the intergenerational gap are standing in the way of making progress both at work and in our personal lives. Bridging this gap will help individuals and organizations celebrate the similarities across generations instead of picking at the differences.