Strategies to Bridge the Gap Between Generations in the Workforce

August 27, 2019 | Jason Arnold
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Organizations and HR professionals have been trying to wrestle with bridging the gap between generations in the modern workplace for the past decade. Three generations of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials—even the last sliver of the Silent Generation and the first signs of Generation Z—have converged into one workplace. The coming decades will see further changes with the emergence of newer generations, and slower exit of older generations from organizations as careers are extended well beyond traditional retirement ages. This convergence has caused real conflict in today’s modern workplace, and the issues are multilayered and complex.

Based on our experience with clients at Inspire Software, and in partnership with organizational psychologist experts through Leadership Genius, the generational gap conflicts can be characterized by three key factors that are best understood through values, language, and Technology Quotient (TQ) differences.

Values Gaps

The generational conflict often playing out in today's multi-generational workforce is largely based on a difference in values. Depending on who you ask, you will get different answers on what the core values of each generation are. Research supports that there are clear and real differences in value systems between each of the three major generations—Boomers, Xers, and Millennials—in today's workforce. Regardless of how you define each of these value sets, the most critical place to start is with a willingness to learn and understand each defined set of values. This is true of ethnic or organizational cultures, teams, and individual values.

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The Solution:
Celebrate each set of values and then seek ways to align them through collaboration and meaningful conversations. In short, our research bears out that the generational gap is largely played out through different value sets and misunderstanding that is often found in different types of value conflicts. Explore, discover, and celebrate the differences in those values to find deeper understanding while looking for common ground in collaboration and communication between the different generations.

Language Gaps

The generational gap is also largely a language issue. Not only are there different values, but the ways to express those values, and how each subgroup communicates and collaborates, is unique to each generation. As values shift and evolve from generation to generation, so does our language and the ways and means we communicate with each other.

The Solution:
While seeking common ground on values, organizations will do well to seek a common language, not only around generational issues but through a common performance and leadership language to help communicate and resolve important business issues and conflicts. Every culture lives and dies with values and language as a foundation for moving beyond surviving and thriving.

Technology Quotient Gap

The third gap we have seen working with organizations—the less critical but equally impactful, and often making the first two gaps more transparent—is what we identify as the Technology Quotient (TQ) that varies between these three generations. All three have experienced rapid technology changes throughout their lifetime and have been immersed at different levels throughout the course of that evolution. While Boomers aren't in the dark ages regarding their TQ, there is a significant gap between how they experience and use technology than Millennials do. We have rapidly transitioned from a large industrial economy/workforce into a knowledge-based economy/workforce fueled by modern technology like the internet and smartphones and the corresponding software applications and social media developed for those technologies. The way we think, live, work, and experience life varies on our TQ.

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The Solution:
Like values and language differences, it's important to understand each generation’s TQ and comfort level with using various and evolving platforms, then find common ground to communicate. If one person prefers communicating through email or voicemail, understand that and flex your TQ to meet their needs. If they use a new and effective platform, be open and willing to evolve your TQ to meet the people you collaborate with where they are at, and how they prefer to communicate, collaborate, and socialize, without condescending that method.

Understanding each generation’s values, language, and TQ is the first step in bridging the gap and flexing your generational disposition. All great leadership and collaboration are about being more aware of your stimuli and more intentional about how you respond to others. The same is true when attempting to bridge the gap between generations.

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