5 Ways to Bridge the Generation Gap Between Employees

Diversity makes the workforce stronger. However, different generations approach tasks with different attitudes, and the resulting communication gaps can lead to traffic jams or worse. With more than a third of the workforce made up of millennials and a quarter of baby boomers, you may be called upon to bring some unifying magic to a team at odds over generational issues. Below are five human resources (HR) best practices for bridging that generational gap and making the most of your team’s diversity. When the generations fit in well in the workplace, you will see a high level of employee engagement and an improved company culture at all levels.

1. Provide a variety of communication channels

Include face-to-face meetings and phone calls in your regular routines, along with texting and emailing. Older workers grew up in a generation before cellphones and email, and may prefer to communicate via face-to-face conversation or phone calls. In general, the younger the worker, the more comfortable they are likely to be with texting, emailing or posting on social media. Riot, an open-source collaboration tool, points out that one of the benefits they can bring to work is better cross-generational relationships. They write in Medium that using a co-working space “can bridge the communication gap by complementing office communication for all generations” and will lead to “a happy medium when each generation has its own communication preference. “.

2. Establish a two-way mentorship program

When trying to bridge the generation gap, always remember that each generation has something valuable to offer the other. Employment engagement specialist Tim Eisenhauer points out that baby boomers have valuable real-world experience on how the business world works, while millennials bring insight into how technology can transform many aspects of running a business. He writes, “A great way to manage a generation gap in the workplace…is to develop a mentorship program within your organization. This creates a fair and balanced platform that each party can benefit from, and it can also help build stronger interpersonal relationships between colleagues. The AARP Bulletin cites a number of company examples of this technique, sometimes referred to as “reverse mentoring.” Social media fluency is taught by younger employees, while older employees provide coaching in the nuances of face-to-face interactions. The two-way mentoring approach is particularly useful when young workers are in leadership positions, as it encourages respect to flow both ways.

3. Put respect first

Performance specialist Bonnie Monych breaks down the motivating factors that drive employee alignment in each generational sector, but a common theme throughout her analysis is respect. People in every age group will be more open to listening to those who are different from them if they feel their own knowledge and contributions are respected. Monych points out that baby boomers have an intense work ethic, are driven by challenge, and enjoy being respected for their maturity. Generation Xers, born between 1965 and 1980, want to be respected for their autonomy and independent skills. Millennials, born after 1980, seek respect for their ability to multitask, collaborate, and be flexible.

4. Don’t make assumptions

Yes, now that we’ve given you a bunch of generalizations, we’re telling you not to stereotype. The key is to let people surprise you. While there’s good reason to gain a broad understanding of generational characteristics, it’s important to avoid making assumptions about a particular person’s skills or preferences. Growth marketer Aj Agrawal points out, “You need to treat millennials as individuals in the workforce and not assume that what works for one person will work for all.” His words are equally true for every generation. Assuming that people have certain preferences or characteristics based on their age is a form of profiling, and it can lead to a deep sense of misunderstanding. Let each team member tell you their favorite work style or the employee reward that would make them the happiest. Your understanding of age-related trends can inform the range of choices you express to your team, but don’t underestimate individual variations.

5. Protect yourself against age segregation

You may very well find that your workers tend to cluster in small groups of their age peers. It’s just human nature: conversations come easier when everyone has a similar frame of reference. However, employees can spend time with their age mates when not at work. The fact is, your staff will be more innovative and productive if you ensure there is plenty of cross-pollination between generations and a bridge between generations. Generations United executive director Donna Butts has this to say: “When generations don’t mix, they’re less likely to care and invest in each other.” Fostering a culture of recognition is a great way to unify your workforce and gives employees the opportunity to appreciate each other.

office generation gap

Beware of the generation gap

What does the generation gap look like in your organization? Regardless of their age, you can be sure that your employees’ motivation will flourish when they feel appreciated. The younger generation may have grown up in a time when they heard a lot of praise and for this reason may need it to be part of their environment. Older workers, especially those who belong to Gen X or baby boomers, may not expect positive feedback, but they sure will appreciate it… maybe even more so because they’ll feel like you’re going above and beyond to notice their efforts.

To learn more about how to improve the employee experience for your entire workforce, access our webinar recording, “The Evolution of Connecting and the Need to Belong.”