How to lead five different generations in the workplace - Dignify
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How to lead five different generations in the workplace

Wednesday, April 10, 2024 - Dignify

One of the most significant workplace changes to occur in the last decade has been the entry of Generation Z. With Gen Z coming into the fold, we now have five different generations working together for the first time in history – Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and now, Generation Z as well. The workplace is now more age-diverse than ever before.

Naturally, this level of generational diversity can create a lot of friction. People from each of these generations have very different values, communication styles, and ideas of what good leadership is.

To put it in perspective, Traditionalists almost certainly had leading figures in their lives at some point that were born in the 1800s. Millennials and Generation Z might as well have grown up in a different world compared to their earlier counterparts thanks to the level of technological development and integration that surrounded them as they grew up.

From a leader’s perspective, this can be a daunting reality. Getting someone in their 30s to work well with someone in their 50s is already difficult, how about the prospect of enabling an 18-year-old and someone in their late 60s-early 70s to find common ground and work as a cohesive team?

Leading a multigenerational workforce is something people have been grappling with since the beginning of time – this isn’t a new thing, and if you’re struggling, you are certainly not alone. Generational diversity in the workplace is the norm, and people have figured out how to make it work. Here are a couple simple, yet highly impactful tips:

Embrace the differences, exploit the similarities

People from each generation are unique and different. Because they were born and raised in very different scenarios, they all tend to have very distinctly different ideas about just about everything. Their values, their preferred communication styles, the things that feel natural and unnatural to them – everything.

These generational differences can be so steep and defined that people develop prejudices against people from other generations that prevent them from seeing the value in other ways of being.

For example, it’s famously common for Gen Zers to stereotype Baby Boomers for being out of touch and behind the times. Conversely, it’s common for Baby Boomers to express their deep concern for the future because they believe Gen Zers are lazy and entitled. While these comments might be funny when said in jest, the reality is that some people do hold true prejudices against other generations. When people express these, it can make the already steep barriers to communication even taller.

As such, it’s important to start by encouraging people to understand and accept each other’s differences. At the end of the day, we can’t force anybody to change and conform to our idea of what they should be. And we shouldn’t waste our time throwing insults and making assumptions about people from other generations because they think differently about things than we do – it will never be productive or lead to anything except contempt.

Teach people how to kill off stigmas and stereotypes and just accept each other for who they are rather than judging them for who they assume them to be. You have to show them who people really are. Show the Boomer just how much work the Gen Z employee they criticize is doing. Show the Gen Zer how knowledgeable and insightful the Boomer is, even if they aren’t the best with technology.

Once you’ve gotten past the barrier of stigmas and stereotypes, you can move on to teaching people of different generations to connect based on what all of them have in common. Believe it or not, there are certain things that members of every single generation can find common ground on, and which can be used as a basis for cordial and respectful interactions. Here are just a few examples of some things everyone wants, regardless of their age or background:

  • Recognition for the work they do
  • Clear and transparent communication
  • Seeing the positive effects of the work they do
  • Avoiding unhealthy and unnecessary conflict

Provide a variety of mentorship opportunities

Once people of different generations are able to speak to each other with a level of respect and without the weight of stigmas and stereotypes, they often find that they have a lot to learn from each other.

For example, Baby Boomers, who have decades of experience in their career, can teach an up-and-coming Generation Zer a lot of knowledge and tips that only come from experience, and set up that budding leader to be as successful as possible in their future. In exchange, the Gen Zer could teach the Boomer exactly how to use a new software or piece of technology that everyone uses, but they just can’t seem to get. Both of them can make each other’s lives easier.

This process is called mutual mentorship, and it’s one of the best ways that people of different generations can not only connect with each other, but help each other in the process. Mutual mentorship can be undertaken in many different ways, but as with anything in leadership, the most effective way to go about it is to practice it consistently. To get the best results out of a mutual mentorship initiative, take the following actions:

  • Provide time for each of your team members to think up a list of topics that they would like to learn about from somebody of a different generation
  • Establish a regular cadence for team members of different generations to meet with each other and teach each other about a topic of their choice
  • Make these meetings a priority – allow team members to block off times in their schedules to complete them so that they don’t get constantly moved back or cancelled

People love to talk, especially about what they know. When you incentivize members of different generations to teach each other about what they know best, both participants in the conversation are fulfilled. The teacher gets to help someone understand something that will likely make their interactions smoother, and the learner has the opportunity to grow their skills and perspectives in way that they wouldn’t normally be able to.

The bottom line

In order to create lasting harmony in a multigenerational workplace, the simple fact of the matter is, respect must be paramount. As a leader, it’s your job to start the conversation and provide incentives for people to start seeing eye to eye. Ultimately, people need to make a conscious choice to find common ground, treat each other with honor and respect, and learn from each other. In order do to that, they need to be able to see past stereotypes, understand people for who they are, and build common ground on learning from one another. Get the ball rolling – start bridging those gaps.

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