What You Need to Know (and Do) About the Generation Gap at Work
The communication and motivational styles of your coworkers and employees vary according to which generation they grew up in. Attitudes toward work, language, mindset and social norms evolve over time, leading to occasional generational conflict.
How can you improve communication at work by closing the generational divide? How can you facilitate positive, nurturing relationships among colleagues and coordinate with employees regardless of their age group? It all begins with understanding each generation’s unique attributes. From brand new Gen Zers to baby boomers, here’s what you need to know about the generation gap and generational differences at work.
The Gen Zers
Generation Z is the youngest portion of the workforce, and they came of age during troubled times. They grew up in a world where school never represented a haven — instead, they had active shooter drills. Many of their parents lost jobs and homes during the recession, and they’ve known constant global conflicts and terrorist attacks.
Gen Z wants to work hard, and for the right reasons. Many are high achievers, but they expect to earn a living that aligns with the effort they put into it — a challenge that, given rampant wage stagnation, causes considerable stress for many. These individuals also embrace activism, and, like their millennial peers, they gravitate toward companies that make social responsibility the core of their business model.
Tips for Working With Gen Z
Explore some suggestions for working with Gen Z coworkers and employees:
- Embrace social responsibility: Gen Z wants to work for a company that shares their values. What matters to you? Make it a part of your mission.
- Provide meaningful perks: Money isn’t everything to Gen Z, but they do expect fair treatment for their efforts. Given that many watched their parents struggle in the gig economy, providing a meaningful benefits package attracts top talent.
- Give speedy feedback: Gen Zers were born with cellphones in hand, so they respond quickly to their inquiries. Letting an email sit unopened can lead to disengagement on the clock.
Millennials are often misrepresented as high-maintenance — but look at the uncertainty that colors their adulthood. Many were young when the recession hit, so they’re no stranger to economic hardship. Despite their reputation as unmotivated and entitled, they work tirelessly, are self-motivated and rarely enjoy time away from their labor. About 55% of millennials report not taking their annual vacation time — and those who do take off often answer work-related questions while away.
It should come as no surprise that 80% of millennials prefer experiences over material things because they have so little personal time. Giving them a sense of control is critical to retaining your top performers.
Tips for Working With Millennials
Check out these pointers for smoothing out operations with millennial employees:
- Provide flextime options: Many millennials are no strangers to side hustles, multitasking and wearing multiple hats. Allowing flextime options lets them manage the multiple demands on their schedules, such as parenthood or their part-time commitments.
- Offer or require PTO: Millennials need time away to avoid burnout. You can go a step further in easing their stress by communicating that all employees must take a certain number of paid days off per year. Avoid sending them correspondence while they’re away, even if you think it will only take a second.
The Gen Xers
Many Gen Xers lost jobs, homes or retirement funds during the Great Recession. As a result, many are now trying to rebuild savings and personal assets at a time when they should be at their financial peak. It should surprise no one that Gen Xers report higher levels of stress on the job than other generations.
Many in Gen X also grapple with feelings of disengagement — they believe their bosses pass them over for promotions in favor of younger millennials.
Tips for Working With Gen Xers
Maintain healthy morale among the Gen Xers at your job with these suggestions:
- Provide employee assistance: A thriving employee assistance program can help your staff members get the support they need to manage their stress. Of course, this step requires offering benefits like health insurance coverage, so workers can afford to tend to their mental as well as physical health needs.
- Recognize their contributions: Members of Gen X tend to work quietly — but they’ll put their nose to the grindstone like no one else. Recognize the hard work they do with financial incentives and promotions.
The Baby Boomers
Baby boomers are nearing their retirement age, which creates significant stress for many. This generation is loyal to their employers almost to a fault, and they can feel lost without the traditional anchor of a 9-to-5 position. They also respect authority and conventional business models, and they expect their employer to reward their loyalty with predictable financial incentives.
Tips for Working With Baby Boomers
Appeal to baby boomers by adapting to their working style:
- Reward their work ethic: This generation benefits the most from an outlined career progression chart that details what they must achieve to reach each level. These workers appreciate a structured approach to earning promotions.
- Understand they may struggle with technology: This generation can become tech savvy — Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs are boomers — but they might struggle to grasp the breakneck pace of today’s always-connected world. Regular training can help keep them up to speed, and patience from younger staff members smooths relations.
Crossing the Generation Gap at Your Workplace
Close the generational divide in your office by learning what each group values the most. By improving workplace communication and incentives for various age groups, you’ll create a cohesive team spirit across generations.
This guest post was authored by Alyssa Abel
Alyssa Abel is a college and career writer who offers advice on strategies to success. Read more of her work on her blog, Syllabusy.