Juggling Generational Differences In The Workplace Is An Important Skill You Should Have

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Relationships are tough. Add in generational differences — whether between grandparents and grandchildren or between Baby Boomers and Millennials in the office — and tough becomes an understatement.

In today’s workforce, where you’re likely to find hard-working Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, working side-by-side with tech-driven Millennials (or Gen Yers), born in the late 1970s and into the late 1990s, the tension is obvious.

When you start witnessing cliques forming, people not wanting to work together, work quality suffering, projects stopping and starting, or complaints about colleagues arising, you might want to consider whether generational tensions are floating to the surface.

Among the more than 81 million Baby Boomers in the U.S., nearly 60 million of them are still in the labor force. Gen Xers account for 61 million U.S. citizens and nearly 50 million of those are active in the workforce. The shocking numbers come with Millennials, where a mere 32 million of the 85 million are working. The numbers of generational citizens employed alone is ripe for tension.

Clear generational differences are apparent in speech, dress, priorities, and ideologies. Younger workers like open office environments where they can collaborate with coworkers and explore their surroundings with a fresh espresso, while seasoned workers are more apt to hunker down at their desk and work through lunch to get the job done. In the middle you have Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1977, who are struggling to maintain a work/life balance while managing an intergenerational workforce.

So how do you create a balanced environment that integrates the strengths of everyone — no matter the generation? Here are a few suggestions for making sure you have happy, effective employees.

●    Encourage your Baby Boomers to mentor the younger set, but also for your Millennials to mentor the seasoned veterans. Your younger workers are more likely to bring in new technologies and ideas, while your more experienced workers are able to provide timeless wisdom from years in the field. It’s a give and take, from everyone involved. Steve Linkous, CEO of Hartford Mutual Insurance, says,

“While each generation has a general set of characteristics, there are varied differences: a younger generation might typically bring energy, spirit and drive, a more mature generation can typically balance that with experience, patience and a broader view.”

●    Offer different types of training to accommodate everyone’s learning style. While Gen Xers might prefer an independent learning environment, your Millennials might prefer interactive online tutorials and your Baby Boomers might be more interested in handbooks and videos.
●    Keep communication lines open by accommodating generational differences. Millennials are more likely to feel comfortable shooting an email or text to let you know they’re sick while Boomers tend to stick to phone calls for communication. Making sure that everyone on staff knows that different people communicate in different ways will give everyone a chance to consider who they’re talking to and adjust their communications appropriately. (This also encourages patience!)
●    Consider a flexible work policy. A Baby Boomer might feel 60 hours spent at the desk is the best way to get things done, while a Millennial might prefer the coffeehouse environment for maximizing talents. Communicating to everyone in the office that different crowds prefer different workspaces provides a little bit of flexibility for everyone, not to mention allows your employees to work where they’re comfortable.
●    Know your workers and what is going on outside of work. Baby Boomers are heavily thinking about retirement while your Millennials are wondering whether they did the right thing — should they go back to school while working? Focusing on where your workers are in life gives you the chance to play to their strengths and gives you an opportunity to provide flexibility. A Gen Xer might want to pick up extra hours while a Boomer wants to slowly cut back and a Gen Yer wants to leave a bit early every day to go to night school.

When running a business, you have to know the customer, and the same applies to your workforce. Encouraging workers to learn from one another, keeping a flexible mindset, and having your finger on the pulse of how your employees best receive and process information is the best way to ensure an effective, cooperative office ecosystem.

Written on 8/6/2013 by Susie Brown. Susie Brown is a FastUpFront Blog contributor and business author. Fastupfront offers a cash business loan alternative.

Photo Credit: Kenneth Ristau

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