Gen Z Expects Employers to Treat Them Differently. Here's How to Bridge the Generational Gap. In an economy where younger generations enter the workforce while older ones remain in it out of financial necessity, it pays to bridge the generational gap.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Today, younger generations are starting their professional careers while older employees remain in the workforce longer out of economic necessity. Naturally, this means many companies employee people across several different generations: Generation Z, Millenials, Generation X, even Baby Boomers.
Whether your company is in its startup phase or a later-growth stage, the odds of achieving your goals in this diverse professional landscape improve when you leverage the generation gaps among your employees and partners. Many companies have experience managing the challenges of a generation gap, but few leaders actually utilize generational differences for the employees' and company's benefit.
Beyond attracting and onboarding talent, a good leader must excite and motivate employees to be productive and collaborative to achieve results. But people of different generational mindsets and experiences do not respond the same way to typical motivations. The differences in the way they approach work projects and colleagues are significant.
Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X employees expect their employers to treat them differently than Baby Boomers. Not managing those expectations and not closing the generation gap put your company at a disadvantage. All of the generational groups can make significant contributions to your company's success — if you know how to manage their differences.
Related: 4 Ways Millennials and Baby Boomers Make the Dream Team
Here are three ways to help you successfully bridge the gap across the generations, fostering collaboration and productivity in the process.
1. Ensure cognitive diversity in diverse teams
Generally, Baby Boomers and Gen X view diversity in terms of fairness and protection. But for Millennials and Gen Z, diversity and inclusion translate to a collaborative environment that engages individuals with different ideas, experiences and perspectives.
At the outset of team formation, you may want to encourage team members to establish ground rules for promoting empowerment and connectivity jointly. Additionally, you could set a competitive challenge to help build the team mindset. The challenge's success would depend on how team members work together rather than what outcomes they achieve.
Engage in a feedback session at the end of the project. Ask each person to share insights he or she learned about the value of working together despite age or other diversities. Ask people to share the commonalities they observed. Finally, explain to them how those commonalities fit into work-related activities.
Related: Is the Future of Business Going to Be as Diverse as We Think?
2. Challenge your team(s) to raise the stakes
When you challenge your team to improve quality or productivity, their best traits will come through. You may encounter resistance at first, but you need to coach them through it.
A critical aspect of their improvement will depend on their ability to collaborate. This extends beyond just collaborating to resolve a problem. Explain that the challenge is to identify the tasks to improve and band together to determine strategies for improving. Additionally, emphasize the value in diversity of knowledge and experiences.
Explain also that you will objectively evaluate on a weekly or monthly basis how much they improve. Don't give the employees suggestions: Let them collaborate to generate ideas on their own. You also may want to motivate them with an incentive or recognition when they reach milestones in their progress toward improving their work. Remember that milestones should mark how they collaborate and work together, rather than activities or tasks they complete.
This strategy does more than just sharpen their collaborative skills. Because the team knows the bottlenecks and other issues that typically hinder work, it also will improve the team's (and your company's) productivity and morale.
Related: 6 Tactics to Improve Collaboration for Remote Teams
3. Be sensitive to the way you communicate with different generations
Older-generation employees prefer face-to-face communication. Younger employees prefer electronic methods of communication.
Here is an easy way to be flexible and adapt your communication style to reach older and younger generations. The acronym "Tap" may help you keep in mind the components for communication.
- T is for "to-the-point." Make your communication succinct. The older generation will appreciate the clarity, and the younger generation will appreciate your brevity.
- A is for "adapt." Be flexible and change how you communicate, demonstrating your understanding and caring about others' feelings. Make an effort to call or speak with an older employee in person rather than using electronic tools. Reach out to younger-generation workers via email or instant messaging, showing them you appreciate their need for independence. If you need to address all employees in an email, make yourself available for follow-up by telling them they can reply to the email or call or visit you in person if they have questions.
- P is for "professional." Avoid jargon and text abbreviations in your communications. Use salutations and close your communication correctly and professionally. Older employees expect this professionalism as a matter of respect. And for younger employees, your professional communication style will set an example.
Taking the time and effort to follow the above three tips to bridge the generation gap in your company is worth the "investment." The outcome in collaboration and productivity improvements, as well as employee job satisfaction and loyalty, will go a long way toward cultivating a positive office culture and driving your future success.