Entitled youngsters and parallel boomers – that’s a brief way to characterize the stereotypical opinions that form the foundation of intergenerational conflict in the workplace. Diffusing such a tense atmosphere is not an easy task, but it is certainly worth the commitment. How to manage an intergenerational team and how to improve communication between people of different ages? Let’s find out!
Intergenerational management is a key aspect of the contemporary work environment. Generational diversity in the workplace can be a source of rich knowledge and experience exchange, but at the same time, it poses a challenge for managers and HR specialists in terms of effective management and team integration. Unfortunately, from the HR department’s perspective, certain biases can cast a shadow on the relationships between employees.
Therefore, the first step in intergenerational management should be to understand the characteristic features of each generation. And in the next step, to reject them as the only possible guidelines. People are very different from each other. And although the leading characteristics for each generation are noticeable in relation to the group, the group consists of individuals. Some of these individuals will differ significantly from the others, so it should not be assumed that the 50+ generation are employees who cannot cope in the digital world. There are plenty of influencers who are not only over 50 but also over 90, disproving this statement.
The next important step is a broader understanding of the motivations and attitudes of employees, both male and female, representing a given generation. Certain traits may be assumed to be negative, but upon closer examination of specific behaviors, it may turn out that they translate into positive attitudes for the entire team. Example? Let’s use the most stereotypical one, which rolls almost in all discussions about employing representatives of Generation Z.
Entitled or caring?
A person comes to a job interview and their first question is “when can I take a holiday?” or “is on-site work necessary, or do you allow remote work?”. Considering the vision of entitled 20-somethings, recruiters may feel that someone who asks such questions is not interested in the job. Yet these questions may stem from the fact that the person wants to work in this particular place. They will decide to do so if they can take care of their needs.
There is a lot of information about the professional burnout of Poles and mental health problems. Young people are very aware of these problems and try to avoid what has had serious consequences for older generations from the beginning of their professional journey. In this context, is the awareness of how soon one can take the first days off to regenerate and relax, to return to work with new energy, entitlement? Or rather an attempt to take care of one’s well-being?
Knowledge and skill flow
There’s a lot of talk about the well-being of employees, both male and female, yet asking about holidays or remote work is treated like a slap in the face to a future employer. Instead of criticizing such attitudes, older generations should take a leaf out of the book of caring, conscious, open to diversity and inclusivity Gen Z, i.e., people born after 1997. Besides, according to Deloitte research, as much as 66% of them believe that bosses could learn from them. And indeed, why not?
It is worth remembering that the traditional student-teacher relationship model, which once dominated the workplace, is rarely observed today. However, this often translates into difficulties in transferring unique skills and knowledge that older employees can offer. This can lead to situations where companies risk losing these valuable resources when older employees, feeling unappreciated, decide to end their professional careers.
What unites, not divides
Therefore, learning should be two-way, as Zs can learn a lot from older generations. Although young generations often negate authorities. Instead of forcibly showing that “older is wiser”, it’s worth opening to a real flow of knowledge, which should form the basis of the operations of generationally diverse companies. It may then turn out that people from different generational groups have a lot in common.
For example, millennials and Gen Z may think that eco-friendly attitudes are the result of their consciousness and efforts. Meanwhile, in preventing food waste or the idea of “repair instead of throw away”, older generations have no equal. Mentoring programs are not only an attractive form of acquiring new competencies, but they also perfectly integrate the team by showing similarities instead of emphasizing differences.
Equally important as mentoring programs are trainings. Especially those in soft skills, in which representatives of different age groups should participate. Particularly important should be trainings on communication. Developing common patterns and understanding what the other person expects and what drives them can significantly change the perspective.
For example, the issue of inclusive language. For many people from the Baby Boomers generation (born 1946-1964) or Generation X (born between 1965-1980), issues such as communicating which pronouns should be used for a person may be incomprehensible. Similarly, the issue of natural feminatives for the Polish language, which however during the PRL years faded into oblivion in many fields.
Yet the leading characteristics for the above groups are a preference for direct communication for Baby Boomers and high adaptability for X. It is worth using these types of behaviors not only in the employee-company relationship but also between individual units, so that the communication process runs smoothly.
However, again, in this case, one should not succumb to generalization, and instead of top-down corrective plans, it is better to ask about the communication preferences of individual members of the company community.
Effective intergenerational management requires understanding that each generation brings unique skills and perspectives to the workplace. For example, employees from the Baby Boomers generation may have extensive experience and deep industry knowledge, while Generation Y (1981-1996) and Generation Z may (although we still remind that they don’t have to) be more technology and innovation oriented. Adapting tasks to these unique skill sets allows for maximizing the potential of each employee.
However, it is worth remembering that projects that encourage collaboration between different generations can greatly enrich the work environment. Such initiatives allow for the exchange of knowledge and experience, which not only promotes the personal development of employees but also contributes to the innovation and creativity of the organization.
However, one cannot forget about the note of individualism. For example, in the context of career planning and development. Understanding that employees of different ages may have different professional and personal goals can be key for organizations. For example, younger employees may be looking for opportunities for rapid development and promotion, while older ones may be more interested in stability or flexible working hours. Adapting development plans to the individual needs and aspirations of each employee, offering various training and promotion opportunities, and support in long-term planning can significantly affect employee satisfaction and engagement, and thus the success of the entire organization.
The same applies to the flexibility of the organization’s operations. Enabling remote work and offering various contract models are key elements that allow for better adjustment of professional life to individual life circumstances of employees. For example, employees raising children or caring for older family members may want to use flexible working hours, while others may prefer the possibility of remote work to better balance professional and private life. Such an approach not only increases employee satisfaction and motivation but can also contribute to increasing their productivity.
These are just a few suggestions that can positively affect workplaces where representatives of different generational groups work together. However, it is worth remembering that effective intergenerational management should be implemented based on a clear and carefully developed strategy. And its implementation requires a great deal of flexibility, openness, and continuous learning on the part of managers and HR employees. With the right approach, generational diversity can become the key to innovation, growth, and success for organizations.