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Bridging the Generational Divide in the Workplace

As one's career progresses, it becomes more possible for you to interact with multi-generational cultures and co-workers. It could even be highly possible for one's boss to be younger than they are. In the age of digital marketing and social media, it is becoming increasingly popular for businesses to hire younger people who have grown up using social media as a medium of expression in order to plug into the digital platform.

In a BBC report entitled: "Crossing Divides: The 'youngsters' gaining respect at work" by Business Reporter Douglas Shaw, it was said that: "A demand for social media skills is bringing younger people into the workplace, often straight from school. When managed badly it can create resentment amongst older colleagues - but when the age divide is bridged successfully, it can also lead to a win-win situation."

Tensions to Manage

When one thinks of a multi-generational workforce in this current era, managers and business leaders are most often made up of the Boomers, which means their tolerance for generational diversity could make or break their company's recruitment and retention efforts. Then there is the large percentage of Gen X-ers, followed by the up and coming Millennials, and small entries of Gen Y & Z-ers.

With such a diverse and eclectic demographic, it can be a real wrestle managing these conflicts when they arise among these age groups.

Two obvious tension points pop immediately to mind in a traditional business set up. First scenario - you have the more mature team members who may be expecting career progression and promotion. They then become disappointed and disillusioned when a much younger candidate with much less workplace experience is seemingly jettisoned in to be their new boss.

Second scenario - you have the fresh out of water youngster who has to straddle being brand new at work while also having to issue instructions to potentially resentful older colleagues who may not be keen to take instructions from a fresh faced youngster. Kirsty Sheppard, who was employed fresh from her A levels to Burstimo, a small digital agency that promotes musicians on digital media platforms like Spotify and TikTok, confessed to it being "quite scary knowing that she had so little experience".

As the leader sitting at the helm, how do you ensure that this tension is managed in a way that will help your business to flourish? This is where effective engagement comes in and proper tools and guidance can take place with the help of a facilitator.

Managing the Divide

In reality, whether be it the young or old generation, both age groups have plenty to learn from each other. How would you engage this diversity in age groups to be advantageous in working together for the benefit of the entire business as a whole? Are you effectively communicating this as an opportunity for them to learn valuable skills from one another?

While older team members may need to step in and mentor younger team members in soft skills such as dealing and managing client relationships, younger team members can bring older team members up to speed with the technical jargon of digital platforms and online symbols.

By encouraging this cross-generational learning with one another, leaders could adopt a creative rewards systems where every generation can glean from working together in a way that is non intrusive and mutually beneficial. For example, is there something else aside from money you could offer the older staff in lieu of the promotion? Perhaps an opportunity for a sabbatical with job security that they may be interested in? Or how about integrating some “cool” technology perks as employee benefits for the younger generation?

No matter which way your business direction is heading, always make it a point to assure your employees, young or old, that the company values them. Hence, before the new employee joins the team, it would also be wise to cement how the business values the experience of the older staff. Even as new technology dictates younger people to take charge of the digital arena, experience and maturity of the older folks are still valuable lessons in the workplace, in which case your younger employees would do well to emulate towards your customers and clients.

Recognition, a powerful way to engage employees

Everyone likes to have their work recognised, so how can we approach this with equal standing for all demographics? Here are some meaningful tactics:

Include a scorecard system to motivate them. This allows employees to see their own as well as their peers’ progress. It may sound simple but not to be underestimated, over time this feel good process does move the needle for many, if not all the participants. It creates a sense of respect for one another and may even reveal valuable contributions from colleagues that no one was aware of initially.

Set up Roundtable Feedback. Leaders should train employees to see feedback as a gift. Employees receiving this feedback can decide on how they want to move ahead with what is shared among their peers. Constructive feedback and non-negative terms are key in this approach for it is not an excuse for co-workers to start bashing each other. Once this is done right, employees will soon learn that this process does not have to be painful but in fact very liberating.

Cultivate a culture of close connections. Close connections at work are extremely useful for boosting employee engagement even across all generations because your employees will start seeing one another as human beings instead of co-workers.

Develop these connections by intentionally sharing authentic stories or challenges they face either at work or in their personal life (only if they are comfortable). One thing to note about this is that you cannot force connections. Therefore, what has to be the foundation of this approach is instilling trust and respect built into the workforce right from the beginning.

Bottomline is - people in leadership positions need to know exactly what sets the generations apart. There is a wealth of information and knowledge that each demographic brings to the table and how each generation is unique. The faster each generation can adapt to the workforce, the more beneficial and productive it will be for management and the business eventually.

Here at Engaging Leaders, we believe that learning is in the doing. The more well-versed your leadership staff is, the easier it will be to properly manage the generation gap in the workplace. We can support the leadership team in bridging this gap as it is less intimidating for their employees to see their leaders directly managing them. We can help transform your employees from disengaged into actively engaged participants in their learning journey with us to bring together these generations with open-mindedness and collaboration.



Key Contact: Monica Tan,

Monica Tan, Engaging Leaders, leads our clients through a journey of performance and change. With more than 15 years of client and project management experience, she serves as a key advisor to our clients.


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