Boomers to millennials: Bridging the generation gap in business

Describing the traits of millennial workers, the New York Times lists: “a sense of entitlement, a tendency to overshare on social media, and frankness verging on insubordination” – …

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Describing the traits of millennial workers, the New York Times lists: “a sense of entitlement, a tendency to overshare on social media, and frankness verging on insubordination” – a disparaging viewpoint shared by many boomers and some Gen Xers.

Among the biggest challenges facing employers is managing these very different generations and their often divergent agendas.

Psychologist Constance Patterson attributes these tensions to “a lack of understanding across generations”, further stating that it “can have detrimental effects on communication and working relationships and undermine effective services.”

Collaboration

In order to ease these conflicts, the onus is on the employers and mangers to build bridges between the generations and create a friendly, collaborative workplace culture.

One way to go about it is by encouraging collaboration and social contact between the generations. While it may be tempting to group people of similar ages together, both the employees and company itself could be missing out on valuable opportunities.

When people from differing ages and backgrounds come together, they can learn from each other and hear ideas and viewpoints they may not otherwise be exposed to.

Each generation has its strengths and weaknesses. Boomers and Gen Xers have years of experience, but might not be as up to speed with the latest social media platforms and cultural trends.

Millennials, on the other hand, are more likely to tech savvy but will have less experience.

Both hard and soft skills can be traded by intermingling and through a mentorship programme boomers and millennials can learn from each other.

Communication preferences

A recent article for CNBC claims that online communication “seems to have agitated the generational divide in the workplace”.

Communication preferences often vary depending on the generation. Millennials have largely abandoned formality in how they dress, write emails and address their superiors – sometimes to the chagrin of older colleagues.

Speaking to CNBC, executive coach Monique Valcour says: “In general, many people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond – people who grew up before the era of electronic communication – find young employees to be overly informal and inadequately respectful of the relatively higher social ranking of more senior employees.”

While boomers and many Gen Xers grew up talking face to face or over the phone, millennials have grown up with text messaging, emails and instant messaging.

To avoid tensions over this disparity – boomers might find an email an inappropriate way to address a sensitive issue, for instance – try and standardize modes of contact depending on the situation. For example, you might issue guidelines suggesting that sensitive or complex issues are better, and more quickly, dealt with in person, while some things are more productively addressed with a bullet-pointed email with screenshots, URLs and attachments.

Incentives and perks

Make sure you don’t privilege one generation over another when considering incentives and perks. While age is not the only factor here, it should inform your thinking when considering the respective merits of free gym membership, free healthcare, a company pension, a games room, extra annual leave or cash bonuses.

People are more likely to socialize with others close to their age, and boomers and millennials are more likely to ask a Generation Xer to go for a coffee or beer after work than each other.

But you can get them socialising with each other through team lunches or workshops – nothing brings people together like learning something new together.

Another way to integrate the generations is to take them out of their comfort zone. Employees naturally gravitate to those of similar ages and outlooks if you give them free rein on where to sit in the office.

So encourage staff to hot-desk. This prompts people to talk to those they wouldn’t normally spark up a conversation with, forge new friendships and collaborate with colleagues who are working on the same project.

 

By Melanie Luff, Online Journalist for BusinessesForSale.com, the market-leading directory of business opportunities from Dynamis. Melanie writes for all titles in the Dynamis stable including PropertySales.com and FranchiseSales.com.

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