Bridging the Generation Gap in the Workplace: 4 Tips
In the last three or so years, the workforce has seen a major shift in its demographics, particularly in age. Harvard Business Review reports that an increase in the average age of the population is partly due to a lower birth rate, so maintaining employees has become a vital practice for many businesses to pass along experience and wisdom while the newer generations catch up. However, while diverse age groups in the workplace can be a strength, a generation gap in the workplace is also a challenge to manage. Let’s look at the generation gap phenomenon and how to work with it.
How Did We Get Here?
The growing generation gap in the workplace is partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic resulted in a lot of changes in the workplace, such as new technology, changes to the workplace environment to minimize the risk of infection, and new business practices. With many businesses needing to cut costs, early retirements and downsizing have unfortunately resulted in many experienced employees leaving the workforce and not enough new employees coming in to fill the vacancies.
With this growing loss of experienced workers, many businesses are shifting their attention from just filling vacancies to a mix of hiring and retaining experienced employees. Measures like improving benefits and allowing flexibility in hours and in-office/remote work have helped, but now the average business may have workers who run the gamut from baby boomers, Gen X’ers, millennials, and Gen Z’ers. Getting all these people with varying levels of experience, varying expectations, and varying work habits can provide a challenge to employers like you. Generational differences and how they approach their jobs may lead to tension between employees, lower morale, lower productivity, and a lack of cooperation. However, when managed correctly, a generationally diverse workforce helps maintain company loyalty, promotes a culture of inclusion, retains the wisdom of experienced workers, and encourages new developments based on industry knowledge.
Keeping the Ship Afloat
Managing the generation gap in the workplace may be daunting, but it’s doable. Here are some tips to help keep your workforce working together:
Tip 1: Encourage Communication
Perhaps the most important ingredient to a cohesive staff is to create a workplace atmosphere and company culture that encourages open expression of thoughts and ideas. When employees share their thoughts, they understand one another’s position better, and their managers also understand their needs and expectations. It also puts employees at ease to know they can voice their thoughts (respectfully, of course) without worrying about being punished for it.
Tip 2: Reward Cooperation
A great way to prevent the generation gap in the workplace from becoming a problem is to reward employees who collaborate, especially with those from a different generation. Getting employees with varying levels of experience will encourage two-way mentoring, helping older employees learn about newer technology and practices and younger employees learn proven methods and about traditional work ethics.
Tip 3: Promote Generational Respect
Perhaps the biggest challenge of the generation gap is different generations not respecting one another. Older workers may think the younger ones are too dependent on technology and are lazy, while the younger workers may think the older ones refuse to learn and let their work rule their lives. Work with your managers and staff to help everyone understand each other’s positions, whether that’s having three-way discussions with employees who have trouble cooperating, or company-wide meetings to talk about overarching viewpoints on how the company should be run.
Tip 4: Manage With Equality
Depending on your management style and goals, you may be tempted to favor older employees over newer/younger ones or vice versa. Favoritism, however, is seldom a good idea. Treat your employees with equal respect, providing them with the same opportunities and giving each of them the same consideration for their input. Whenever two employees of similar rank come to you with ideas or suggestions, rather than choosing one over the other, try to find a compromise when possible.
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