How to Bridge the Workplace Generation Gap

With skillful leadership, different generations can work together and learn from each other.

learn more about Beth Miller

By Beth Miller • Jun 6, 2015 Originally published May 5, 2014

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The workplace has traditionally consisted of "old-timers" with 20 to 30 years of experience under their belts and the young "hot-shots" who know-it-all. The younger workers have historically viewed older workers as stuck in their ways. Older workers have historically viewed younger workers as interlopers looking for a fast-track to the top.

Related: How to Manage Generational Dynamics

Today's workplace is a bit more complicated. For the first time in history, entrepreneurs have to manage the challenges of four generations under one roof. Often, the biggest challenge is getting the generations to see past their biases and learn to work together toward a common goal.

The culture and major historical events of its time shape the worldview of each generation and how they approach work. They tend to differ on everything from dress code, to work hours, to interoffice communication. Leadership can encourage harmonious collaboration by:

Creating Diverse Teams. As new projects come up, leaders should develop teams that draw from a cross-section of all generations. When setting up these teams, pull based on skill, rather than age and then diversify as needed.

Keeping Employees Connected and Engaged. Employees of all generations want to know that their work is valuable to the organization. Be sure they understand how their role in specific projects will help the bottom line and benefit them personally. Ask them who they'd like to have on their team in order to reach those goals. Keep this in mind as you develop teams for future projects.

Creating Mentoring Opportunities. Partnering younger workers with older workers can have a positive impact on larger teams. Younger workers can learn the value of structure and face-to-face interaction. They can benefit from Boomers' experience with the company. Boomers can also learn from their younger counterparts. They may pick up new technology skills and begin to embrace work-life-balance. They can also learn new and faster ways to complete tasks.

Related: Are Millennials Really the Entrepreneurial Generation?

Looking Beyond Experience and Skill Sets. Skills can be learned, attitude cannot. Leaders should look for more than experience and skill sets from younger workers, and look more at their behaviors. Gen Y is typically very enthusiastic about work. Their enthusiasm may revive teams who are a bit more jaded. When building teams, identify underlying characteristics and soft skills that can help move the organization forward.

Productively Dealing With Conflict. Exposing different generations to one another on a regular basis can create tension but, when managed effectively, that tension lead to innovation and greater collaboration. Effective leaders help teams work through their differences and understand that everyone has something valuable to bring to the table. Have processes in place for employees to raise issues, voice perspectives and resolve conflict productively.

Every generation has valuable lessons that they can teach the next. Traditionalists and Baby Boomers often have an encyclopedic knowledge of their industry and organization. They can be a wellspring of "tricks of the trade" that younger workers need to learn. Generation X can often act as a bridge between younger and older workers, serving as mediators who value fairness. Gen Y can teach everyone a thing or two about technology and how to value work-life-balance. When members of different generations are encouraged to work together, it builds understanding and trust, helping create a cohesive, yet diverse team.

Related: Motivating Gen X, Gen Y Workers

Beth Miller

Leadership Development Advisor, Speaker, Executive Coach

Beth Armknecht Miller is a certified managerial coach and founder of Executive Velocity Inc., a boutique firm offering talent management and leadership development solutions. She chairs a monthly Atlanta meeting for Vistage, a company that hosts advisory meetings for small business CEOs. Her latest book is Are You Talent Obsessed?

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