In the height of the digital era, we often hear discussion about the advent of technological advancements, AI and machine learning, and trends toward automation. What we hear less about, however, are important social changes that affect work life, like generational gaps in the workplace.
Part of why we need to discuss how generational gaps will have lasting impacts on the workplace are, partly, because of technology. Because Gen Zs and Millennials grew up in a technological world, the way they interact, communicate, and orient themselves in a work environment will generally differ from earlier generations.
Younger generations have different communications styles, and if companies are going to thrive in the 21st century, they need to be aware of these differences in order to cater to their workers’ strengths and create a cohesive work environment.
Below we’ll break down the 5 generations you’ll see in the workplace and how you can create a work environment that empowers all of your workers.
What is the generational gap in the workplace?
Before we get into how to effectively communicate with your workers, let’s first break down what the generational gap is and where your workers fit in that timeline.
The 5 generations you will see in the workplace today include:
- Traditionalist/Silent Generation - Born between 1925 and 1945, these individuals are most influenced by The Great Depression and WWII, exhibiting qualities like loyalty, respect to authority, strong work ethic, independence, and strong communication skills.
- Baby Boomers - Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers are most influenced by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. Baby Boomers are well educated, dependable, excellent in team settings, and value face-to-face interactions
- Generation X - Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen Xs are most influenced by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the AIDS epidemic, demonstrating similar qualities of loyalty, hard work, and dependability of their previous generations with more general technical capabilities.
- Millennials - Born between 1981 and 2000, Millennials are most influenced by 9/11 and the advent of the internet. Millennials tend to be hopeful, ambitious, tech savvy, and experience driven.
- Generation Z - Born between 2001 and 2020, Gen Zs are most influenced by the Great Recession and growing up with technology. Gen Zs values diversity and are often very tech savvy, creative, and able to adapt to changing situations.
These are, of course, tendencies and not hard-written codes. There will be exceptions, and it’s important to treat each individual employee on the merits of their work and behavior as opposed to making assumptions based on their age or identity.
Still, these tendencies are around for a reason, and knowing who is in your office can help you prepare for the possible challenges that might arise when you communicate and interact with your team members.
Some common challenges that might arise between team members and team leaders include:
- Communication issues
- Technology-related issues
- Differing work expectations
- Different needs for job satisfaction
- Differing recruiting methods
- Motivational differences
The biggest challenges for leaders have to do with communicating, motivating, and engaging workers without alienating anyone. Below we’ll get into how you can create a work environment that feels safe, inclusive, and optimal for workers of all generations.
Management of a multigenerational workplace
In terms of what team leaders can do from managerial positions, it all comes down to flexibility. While this might require leaders to alter the ways that they engage with individuals, providing options for your workers is going to be important in meeting employees on the communication lines that they prefer.
What this could look like is giving employees the option to communicate on the platforms they prefer. While email is still the tried and trusted method for most businesses, allowing workers to reach out to you through phone, SMS, social media platforms, or on phone apps are all ways to provide the kind of flexibility your workers will appreciate.
It’s also important to be flexible in assigning team leaders to specific workers. Younger generations like Millennials and Gen Zs are generally empowered by the ability to grow into their careers, and they will likely want a team leader whom they resonate with and who can guide them into their ambitions. Being open to aligning specific team members with according team leaders shouldn’t be ruled out.
Finally, take some time to find the right balance and matches that work for your employees. Younger employees who thrive in multi-tasking environments could couple well with someone who might be lacking technological skills. At the same time, younger employees could benefit from the guidance of someone who has decades of experience in their specific field. It may take some time, but finding the right balance between workers could lead to a healthy, harmonious, and mutually beneficial work environment.
Again, while understanding generational differences can be helpful for creating a healthy work environment, it’s important to avoid hard generalizations based on things like age or identity. It’s okay to identify generational gaps as a possible indication to work expectations and skill sets, but by no means should organizations be preemptively and rigidly boxing off the capabilities or preferences of their employees based on these generational trends.
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