Bridging the Workplace Age Gap
For the first time, there are five generations represented in the workplace. The combination of a booming workforce and people living longer has culminated in the most diverse, and potentially contentious, professional landscape we have ever seen. So how do you ensure there is peace and prosperity among your colleagues?
First, what are the five generations we’re looking at?
- Generation Z (mid 1990s to early 2000s)
- Millennials (early 1980s to mid 1990s)
- Generation X (1960s to early 1980s)
- Baby Boomers (1940s to 1960s)
- Traditionalists (before 1940s)
Generations are highly defined by significant world events or social shifts, from World Wars to Technology booms. There’s a plethora of information online about the differences between each, but my focus is bridging the gap so I won’t dig into those variances here.
Let Go of Negative Stereotypes
Stereotypes, especially when negative, are frequently off-target and always damaging. Walking into work with preconceived notions about the character and values of a colleague because of their age can be very destructive to company culture and team stability. Always approach a person or situation with an open mind and encourage your employees and colleagues to do the same. You know what they say about assuming…
It’s easier to hold on to assumptions about people when you don’t know them. Encourage interaction among your team and engage with coworkers beyond weekly meetings and emails. Host theme days at the office to foster new conversations or organize group meetings outside of the workplace. Whether it’s a team building ropes course or a casual happy hour, creating an environment for interaction helps break down barriers.
Find Common Ground
Often we gravitate to those who look and act like us because, in theory, they’re the easiest to relate to. However, there’s ample common ground to be found no matter your age. Love of local food, a type of exercise, similar art or music tastes, and on and on. If you’re willing to start the conversation, odds are it will be a fruitful one.
Most professionals advocate highly for mentorships, so why not provide the opportunity within your own workplace? Even if it’s not an official “program”, it’s a great way to reach out to those of other generations. And remember, the mentor doesn’t have to be the older or more experienced professional in the equation. Mentor/Mentee relationships are most successful when both people are learning from each other so consider reverse mentoring as well.
Even as Traditionalists and Baby Boomers retire, the workplace will always be a wider range of ages for future generations. If we set the precedent for collaboration and acceptance now, each new crop of professionals will be more apt to succeed. As a society, that’s a goal we can all happily work towards.
About the Author: Lindsay Konlande currently serves as the Association Assistant for IREM Houston. Lindsay earned her Bachelor Degree in Communication from Texas A&M and has several years of experience in marketing, public relations and copywriting.