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Navigating Generational Differences in the Workplace

Integrity Staffing & Solutions

There are four generations represented in the contemporary American workplace. Employees are remaining in the workplace for longer periods of time, sometimes for financial reasons. Many older workers continue to work because they are in better health than workers in prior generations. This results in the retention of knowledge within an organization for a longer period of time. However, since each generation has a distinctive set of values and corresponding characteristics, this can lead to conflicts that must be managed effectively for an organization to be successful.

Approaches for Addressing Inter-generational Differences

Each approach centers on finding common ground among workers, including:

1) focusing attention on core organizational values,

2) fostering collaboration among the workers, and

3) bridging the technology gap among workers across generations (1)

Finding a common goal for all employees can help workers concentrate less on conflicts between younger and older workers, and focus on broader issues that help advance the company. Focusing on broader issues that benefit employees of all ages (e.g., strategies, goals, objectives and values) and the implementation of more tactical efforts (e.g., creation of processes and interactive activities) opens communication pathways.

Feedback and Performance Reviews

Management team members must continue to hold workers accountable to maintaining organizational policies. Concurrently, managers should provide feedback on work performance to employees on a regular basis (2). These efforts ensure that workers understand the level of their performance and, in turn, are part of the greater whole.  Managers should be held responsible for conducting regular reviews and sharing the results in the context of one’s contributions to the achievement of both department and company-wide goals.

Generations Present in the Workforce

Reflecting on research done to-date on generational differences in the workplace, it becomes apparent that inter-generational workplaces will continue to thrive. It is estimated that more than 40 percent of the workforce is over 55 years of age, and surveys show Baby Boomers intention to work into their 60s and 70s. Some organizations now have four generations of workers (i.e., a continuum of teenagers and those in their late 60s and early 70s). As a result, select companies are experimenting with different work space configurations as well as providing greater remote office capabilities to meet the diverse needs of workers from different generations.

Addressing generational differences by piloting new office and meeting room arrangements, as well as providing greater flexibility in the use of technology, will continue to be helpful. However, it is of equal—if not greater—importance to address misconceptions about fellow workers who represent another generation. Training, mentoring, and coaching opportunities are important steps for breaking down fears and biases among workers. Only then can organizations gain an advantage from the experience of older generations and the enthusiasm and technological savvy of younger generations.

1. Kirkpatrick, Martin, and Warneke

2. Tolbize