Making The Generation Gap Work For You

By Aimee Wera
Posted On 9/28/18

It’s no surprise to many people out there that individuals are staying in the workforce longer and delaying their retirement plans. Gallup reported the average retirement age switching from 61 among the current retirees up to 66 for those who will retire in the future. The baby boomer generation is working longer than any other preceding generation.

This age shift in the workplace could be creating great opportunities among organizations everywhere as well as a completely new set of challenges. One of these challenges is the fundamental differences between older workers and Millennials. The way younger generations work, the values within the workplace, and most importantly the measure of success surrounding these two vastly different age groups.

The Work Is The Same, How It’s Done Is Different

Alright, it may seem rather intuitive to bring this up, but the work being done at most companies is relatively the same. However, when it comes to the way people work, that is where their differences arise and where conflict may occur.

Long gone are the days sitting at an office from 9-5 in order for people to complete their work. According to a 2017 State of telecommuting report, 43% of the U.S. workforce chooses to work remotely. Also, it’s worth noting that this rise in remote work is only expected to increase, and it has risen every year since 2007. With remote work becoming less of a trend and emerging as more of a standard in some companies this movement of working outside company walls may create obstacles for some older managers and coworkers alike.

A Note On Communication

In addition to remote work, which is a growing preference among Millennials, is the ability to rely on less on traditional email and telephone as a primary method of communication. Text, Video, Slack, and even snapchat are becoming the way to collaborate and communicate quickly and efficiently.

Now, there is some overlap with Gen X and Gen Y as most people in these generations are still in their prime earning years and have mostly adapted to the changing communication landscape. Again most! We often find that older workers prefer longer face-to-face meetings, phone calls and conference calls to video, chat, and text. Working in a fast-paced, collaborative and highly iterative workplace can be a challenge for workers and managers who prefer the more familiar cadence of a traditional office environment.

It shows that how your employees interact on a day-to-day basis does matter and may differ from other employees. It’s important to zoom in on who likes what in order to understand how your employees can perform their best work. For example, you wouldn’t want to pressure Tyler of Operations to work remotely when he really may only thrive in an onsite job. Not everyone can adapt to a work from home environment. While it is not to say every generation within this bracket may think or believe exactly what is mentioned above it is a fair assumption based on relevant case studies and data, which analyzes the different generations.

The Value Equation

Yes, we have all heard about the importance of values and how they have changed over time, but have we really analyzed what the differences are and how we measure these values between? Well, before diving in it’s worth shedding some light on the differences among workers and pinpointing the key dissimilarities that set generations apart.

For starters, Baby Boomers, which still made up 19.8% of the workforce in May of this year, according to U.S. Census data, tend to view work more formally than others. These older workers may view the hardest working employee as those who are the first in the door and the last one out. Additionally, they may view the office as the home base where all work is done and prefer to work side by side and in person with people, rather than using technology. When looking at employees over the age of 40, belonging to generation X there is a rather different story being told. This group is more likely to value work environments that foster flexibility and less formal structure. According to a recent study from CIPD, top priorities for these workers include flexible hours, maintaining a work-life balance, and fostering a team environment. However, for Millennials they are in a greater need for validation and attach more self-worth to their work equation.

The demand for validation indicates they may hunger for appreciation, and a desire to be trusted and recognized for their achievements. Micromanaging is typically a non-starter with this group and can often lead to a disgruntled workforce. Millennials can be some of your hardest working team members, however, they want to understand the purpose behind their work, and to be told when or how they are doing well and mentored when they are not. Gone are the days where people value authority and management just because they are in the chair. As we said earlier there is definitely some overlap between generations when it comes to maintaining a work-life balance as well as the desire for a good work environment. However, the key differences are how the different generations view these aspects. As mentioned above this subtle difference may impact your employees more than you think.

For example, if Paul, an older manager is in charge of a team of millennials and doesn’t understand their need for validation, and connection to their work when completing projects, it may send the wrong message to the younger workers and make them feel unappreciated. Finding the right balance between what you expect from your team, vs what they should or need to expect of you is key. While this may be a rather simplified example, just take a moment and think of what this could mean in the long run. If employees are feeling under-appreciated, there is a 66% chance they are willing to leave based on that feeling alone, according to a recent 2017 study by Robert Half. Throw in an increase in employee turnover and before you know it, your business could be losing much more than profits and productivity, as a result of failing to realize the different values of the younger workforce.

The Success Difference

It’s important to note quite possibly the most important difference between all of these generations, the success factor. What does this mean exactly? While to some the thought of success conjures images of Armani Suits, Italian leather shoes and a big house in the suburbs, that picture is probably not on the mind of most younger workers these days.

Time, work-life balance, meaningful work, and flexibility are taking center stage for the younger generation. This means many people may visualize their work as a part of their success, but not what their entire success is based on. For baby boomers, success was usually attained by receiving the comfy corner office or getting a raise or large salary. This means they could effectively be motivated to perform work by receiving a bigger office, perks, and given high levels of responsibility.

As for the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce, Millennials, they value their skills, seek flexible schedules, adequate time off, and seek employers who see the value in their work. Therefore, they are motivated by feeling valued and knowing that their work has a purpose, and would be encouraged by the option to work remotely, continuing education advancement programs, as well as continuous recognition. Although Millennials may get a bad rep for job hopping more than any other generation that could just be a result of employers failing to make their younger employees feel successful while working.

In Conclusion…

Companies everywhere can cut the generation gap by not just seeing these differences among workers but approaching these differences fast and effectively. By looking at what motivates workers of different generations company leaders and managers can come together to uncover what works and what does not for the best among their different employees, no matter where they rank in the organization. With an understanding of how and why employees may do what they do, companies everywhere can tackle the age diversity challenges in front of them and ensure their employees are performing their best in the companies that help them be their best.

Make it more of a Generation Map and you will see your organization overcome the GAP.

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