Now that our workplaces are more generationally diverse than at any time in history, but at risk of conflict because of this, how do we all work together harmoniously? Here are six strategies for thriving within a multi-generational mix.
1. Create Respectful Work Culture
It doesn't matter how old or how experienced we are, we all crave respect. And, just as newcomers need to respect older generations' seniority and experience, so long-servers need to adjust to and respect the talent and potential of younger generations. Only when each group respects the other can both thrive. The key to respecting other generations is to understand and accept that they are different from yours. Consider what motivates people from different generations, what experiences they might have had, and what their working styles are likely to be.
2. Cross Learning Environment
The different generations have a wealth of knowledge and experience that they can share. The Boomers in your team, for example, can pass on the knowledge, information, useful contacts, and perspectives that they have developed during their years at work. In return, a Generation Y colleague can help them to get to grips with recent innovations, such as the latest developments in social media and viral marketing. Successful multi-generational teams identify, value and build on one another's skills and experiences. This focus on individual strengths, rather than on generational differences, is a key part of thriving in the modern workplace.
3. Tailor Style of Communication
The generations often have their preferred methods of communication. Silents and Boomers tend to use one-on-one, telephone or written communication, whereas Generations X and Y tend to like emails and texts. Generation Z generally prefers the collaborative interaction of social media. Generations differ in the degree of formality they use, too. Older team members tend to be more formal, whereas their younger colleagues will more likely use colloquialisms, abbreviations and "emojis" – small digital images and icons that are used in messages to represent ideas or emotions. This is more suited to personal or less important messages or communications. Serious or important messages are probably not the best times to use smiley face emojis!
Sticking rigidly to your own favored means and style of communication can alienate others, so, although it might not feel natural, try to tailor your communication to suit the recipient whenever it's appropriate.
4. Shun Stereotyping
It's easy to stereotype different groups. For example, if you're a Baby Boomer, you may think of Millennials as tech-obsessed and lacking in people skills. To Generation Z, Boomers may seem to be stubborn and inflexible.
Everyone is unique so, instead of assuming the worst, fight your unconscious bias and accept individuals based on their merits, rather than as "typical" members of particular generations. Remember, chances are, somebody may be stereotyping you! You can change their perceptions and attitude by demonstrating a willingness to listen to new ideas or suggestions, and, as we explore below, by sharing your knowledge and expertise.
5. Be Flexible and Accommodating
When you understand what makes other generations "tick," being able to accommodate their needs and preferences, where practical, can help to prevent division and conflict.
Each generation has its wants and needs, and values different ways of working. Older generations often have fewer responsibilities and costs at home and they appreciate the opportunity to work part-time or reduced hours, so that they can enjoy the benefits and rewards of a lifetime's work. But an increasing number of Generation Xers are part of the "sandwich generation," responsible for caring for both elders and children alongside their work. And for members of Generation Y, a sociable life outside of work is often just as important as their career.
6. Don't Overlook the Similarities
Focus on the things that unite you with colleagues of all generations, rather than dwelling on the differences.
You might struggle at first to find similarities between yourself and older or younger team members. But, however stark the differences might appear to be, research suggests that there are more similarities than differences across the generations. After all, most people like to feel engaged with their work, to receive fair pay, to achieve, to build a better quality of life, to be happy and respected, and so on. Likewise, many of us share the same grumbles, such as feeling overworked and underpaid!