Generational diversity in the workplace span these generations: the Traditionals (born before 1945), Baby boomers (born between 1945 – 1964), Generation X (born 1965 – 1980), Millennials (born 1981 – 1999), and Generation Z (born since 2000). Generational Stereotypes that exist in the workplace can hinder team effectiveness. Preparing employees to appreciate generational differences can benefit workplace teams.

To consider how these different generations can be engaged to work together as cohesive teams, we need to understand sources of intergenerational conflict, how to reduce them, how to leverage each generation’s strengths and how to better support workplace teams for improved engagement and productivity. This will also keep employees motivated and productive.

Understanding each generation’s strengths and struggles, is the first step in building more effective teams in the workplace. As most Traditionals have retired and Generation Z are only now just joining the workforce, the Table below show the Organizational Behaviours, Workplace Strengths and Workplace Struggles of Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millenials according to Birkman research:

Ex. Birkman E-Book, How Generational Differences Impact Organizations & Teams, P6

Managers and teams can be trained to more effectively deal with these differences through team building activities and mentoring programmes. Effective teams demonstrate competencies in these areas: communicating with others, dealing with change and organization and accountability. The following highlight potential conflict in these areas and suggestions to help bridge intergenerational gaps:

Communicating with Others

Many Baby boomers and older Generation X may not have adapted to communication and connecting via e-mail, text or social media. Younger Generation X and Millenials use these as primary channels of communication. How they communicate the content is also different. An openness and flexibility in thinking and dialogue to appreciate the differences and the use of different communication and collaboration styles can help intergenerational connectivity and communication and enhance collaboration. At the organizational level, companies can use multiple communication channels to ensure that communication is received by the different generations.

Work Preferences and Dealing with Change

Different generations have work preferences and deal with change differently. For example, the older generation may place value in time in the office whilst the younger generation prefer the flexibility to choose where and how they work enabled by technology. By not jumping to conclusions and attributing judgements to such differences, people can adapt to change more readily if they learn to look at it more objectively with reason and logic. Creating opportunities to dialogue when conflicts occur can help with understanding of each other’s perspectives.

Organization and Accountability

Generations also look at authority differently. Boomers see teams and organizations as more hierarchical with formal authority and accountability linked directly to hierarchy, while Generation X and Millenials see competence and expertise as defining the formal authority structure. This can be a source of conflict. Increasing awareness of these differences can help close the gap with an enhanced understanding of each other’s perspectives and reduce these areas of conflict. Mentoring can offer the older generation an opportunity to share their knowledge and experience as well as to understand the perspectives of their younger mentees. Reverse mentoring can also offer younger generation the opportunity to mentor their older colleagues in their areas of expertise such as the use of social media and technology. This is provided the older generation are open to learning from the younger generation. Mentoring and reverse mentoring can help in intergenerational understanding and connectivity.

At a glance – Differences between the generations

The Table below shows key differences in cultural values and preferences between the generations:

Ex. Birkman E-Book, How Generational Differences Impact Organizations & Teams, P14

In summary, an openness to understand differing perspectives, values, preferences and ways of working; flexibility to respect and accommodate differences; offering choice of multiple ways of communicating, working and relating to authority; dialogue, mentoring and reverse mentoring can help intergenerational connectivity and build more effective teams in the workplace. Team building activities to facilitate intergenerational understanding can also help build more effective teams in the workplace.

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