Inter-generational Differences in the Workplace

PSOW Staff - Monday, July 31, 2017

“For every generation, there is a gap.” Of course, we are borrowing a mid 1990s slogan of a clothing retailer, but for those who remember the ad—and for those who don’t—communication can be a major hurdle when you are working with people from different age groups. With nearly 20 percent of people over 65 still working—the highest level in at least 5 decades—recent college grads are finding more and more of their colleagues have a lot more gray hair and a lot less tattoos. So, with baby boomers, millennials and Gen Xers sitting side by side in cubicles across America, the challenge of inter-generational differences has become a hot topic—especially when it comes to management.

To help bridge those inter-generational gaps, we offer some basic management tips on preferred communications styles, business etiquette and the best ways to give feedback that can help your diverse workforce operate as one big happy family.

Communication:Millennials are notorious for avoiding phone conversations and can text off a lengthy message in the time it takes most of us to turn on our computer. But a good manager should never use texting as an effective way to communicate unless it’s a quick note or sharing of relevant work-related news. When possible, you should always try to communicate in person or by telephone to workers of all ages. It may be considered “old school” by some, but human connectivity is as important today as it has ever been.

Greetings and salutations: Baby boomers prefer good manners in a working environment and this includes morning greetings, afternoon goodbyes, and the use of “please” and “thank you.” Privacy and business etiquette are also preferred by older generations whereas Millennials might look at you like you’re from another planet if you expect them to show gratitude. Millennials are also more tolerant of profanity and sharing private details about their life whereas Boomers still think that workers should keep details of their personal life on the private side.

Feedback: Millennials love to receive feedback whereas boomers only need the occasional commentary on their work. So, give feedback to those who need it and as they grow more confident in their positions, you may be able to slack off on the constant reassurances of saying a job well done.

Going beyond stereotypes: Most important, do not expect every worker to neatly fit under a stereotype based on age alone. We are all individuals and may only adhere to one or two preconceived notions related to being a certain demographic. Ideally, a good manager should treat each employee as the unique person they are. Get to know each of your workers, spend face to face time with them and find out what motivates them on a personal level. By breaking the barriers of inter-generational differences, we usually find that all of us have a lot more in common than we think.

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