Manager questioning worker in warehouse
Manager questioning worker in warehouse Mark Edward Atkinson/Getty Images/Blend Images
Commentary

How to Help Millennials and Baby Boomers Get Along

Apr 01, 2017

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How do you resolve an office feud?” is written by Tom Gimbel, CEO of LaSalle Network.

The conflict between younger and older generations in the workplace is due to negative assumptions. Many baby boomers see millennials as impatient, unprofessional, and lazy, while millennials may see baby boomers as unapproachable or old-school. At the end of the day, your age has nothing to do with your success; your execution does. If that message is not conveyed from the top, these generations may clash.

Here are four ways managers can bridge generational gaps in the workplace:

Set expectations of success

First, make clear what hard work and success look like at your company. This sounds simple enough, but every generation understands these terms differently.

Baby boomers tend to believe that work only occurs at the office, and success means putting in long work weeks to finish a project. They are process-oriented, because they entered the professional world in an era when work couldn’t be done at home.

Generation X employees are project-oriented, so they define hard work as getting their projects done efficiently or sooner than expected. Success for them means achieving a healthy work-life balance.

Millennials understand hard work as the quality of their output, not necessarily the hours spent in the office. Since they’re always connected, they often put hours into their work wherever they are—at home, in the coffee shop, or elsewhere. For them, success is defined as positive feedback from managers and coworkers. They often expect to be promoted quickly.

None of these models for work are wrong. It’s when employees hold each other accountable to varying standards that problems arise. This is where leadership can help eliminate any ambiguity.

Foster dialogue among employees

Each generation prefers different means of communication. Baby boomers prefer more formal face-to-face interactions, Gen Xers like to talk over the phone and in-person; and tech-savvy millennials favor email and text. This means companies need to offer both formal and informal communication channels.

Moving desks around is a good way to boost morale and encourage dialogue between employees of different generations. Oftentimes spending just a short period of time getting to know one another can remove the negative assumptions these generations have about each other. If employees think grabbing a conference room at various times in the day to brainstorm is taboo, they’ll stay glued to their seats. Encourage employees to move around the office and talk to coworkers, and create opportunities for them to get acquainted on a personal level, inside the office and out.

Compile diverse teams

When bringing generations together, finding a common motivator is crucial. For instance, if Gen Xers and millennials complete a project together or achieve a common goal, have lunch catered in or host a happy hour for them. It may take time, but get creative and find incentives that work well for everyone. It will pay off as they get to know each other as professionals and begin to work together more effectively.

Create a mentorship program

I didn’t used to be a huge fan of mentorship programs. But I recently realized they are extremely beneficial if done correctly. Pairing employees across generations encourages them to build relationships and understand each other’s perspectives.

The program should be bi-directional, allowing the different generations to learn from one another. That may mean millennial employees get advice on career development and professionalism, while Gen X and baby boomer employees learn more about new technologies. The goal is for everyone to develop new skills and viewpoints, while building personal relationships. Over time, investing in bridging generational gaps will result in less conflict and a much stronger work culture.

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