Mind the gap: addressing intergenerational issues in the workplace

Generational differences are posing more of a problem than ever for Canadian employers – here’s what you can do to help.

Mind the gap: addressing intergenerational issues in the workplace
Generational differences in the workplace have always been an issue, but the average office environment now houses up to four generations under one roof, including Veterans (born before 1946), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1979), and Millennials (1980-2000). With different influencers, core values, attributes and work ethics, getting these groups to, well, get along, can be tricky.
Intergenerational conflict tends to arise between different generations as a result of prejudice, and cultural, social or economic discrepancies. Problems can also arise as a result of the vastly different communication styles exhibited by workers born in different eras. Finally, friction may be aggravated by new technology and workflows that mix workers of different ages in constantly-changing teams.
While workers from different generations tend to value different things (flexibility versus stability, open communication versus competition, etc.), the key to creating a harmonious workplace is effectively addressing (and taking advantage of) the differences between each generation.
Here are some strategies you can employ to help facilitate a productive and happy intergenerational workplace:
Meet and Greet
One of the easiest ways to create workplace harmony is to provide opportunities for employees to get to know each other on a personal level. While workers may tend to socialize with those who are closer to their own age, you can encourage intergenerational contact through programs like reverse mentoring, where both employees share their unique knowledge and expertise with their partner. This allows the younger employee to gain wisdom from more senior coworkers, while giving Millennials the opportunity to share a fresh perspective.  
Create Diverse Teams
A great way to reduce intergenerational conflicts at work is to create intergenerational teams. Creating teams that include employees from four different generations can foster creativity, cooperation, and communication, while eliminating the status quo that comes when teams are too homogenous. Teams should be encouraged to adopt a “flat” structure, and work together to achieve the project goals.
If your employees don’t typically work in teams, consider reorganizing your office layout so that different generations become neighbors and, hopefully, start communicating more.
Set Clearly Defined Goals
Having a shared sense of purpose appeals to employees from all generations. When setting goals and targets, encourage managers to clearly define the mission and motivation, and to clearly express why the goal matters.
Be Flexible
Intergenerational workplaces need to accommodate different learning styles, work habits and employee needs. Baby Boomers may favor more traditional and static training methods like PowerPoint presentations and handbooks, while younger workers may gravitate towards more interactive, technology-based forms of learning. Older workers may be thinking of retirement and may want to reduce their number of hours, while Gen Xers have family obligations. Seek to remain flexible with employee policies, while maintaining parity among the generations.
Be Fair
Above all, employees from every generation want to feel valued and respected. Give all employees a voice, regardless of their age and tenure. Strive to create an atmosphere of open communication in which ideas, concerns, complaints and questions can be presented by everyone without the fear of judgement or ridicule.
In closing, it’s important to remember that a great work environment can be difficult to achieve, even when everyone is a member of the same generation. Don’t confuse performance issues related to immaturity, stubbornness, or laziness with generational traits. Great employees should be willing to work together with their co-workers, regardless of age, and it’s the employer’s responsibility to create an atmosphere that minimises intergenerational conflict.
About the author

Janice Bandick is the Communications Assistant at Ashton College, a private college in Vancouver. Founded in 1998, Ashton College has since become a national and international force in the field of education. Ashton College's Diploma in Human Resources Management program is offered in an innovative live online format to help those across Canada prepare for the National Knowledge Exam and become a candidate for the CHRP.

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