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How to bridge the workplace generation gap

Posted August 18

With millennials coming to dominate the workforce and baby boomers refusing to retire, crossing the generational divide at work becomes ever more of an issue.

The term “generational gap” was first used in the 1960s to express the belief that the old and the young had substantial differences in thought, AARP noted. And it’s a divide that has still carried over into present day, with generations separated under umbrella terms such as “millennials” or “Generation X,” and recent events such as the Brexit vote demonstrating there are differences between the old and young generations’ stance on issues, it continued.

The divide is perhaps even greater as millennials have come to make up the largest age segment of the American workforce, The New York Times noted. Many older employees now find themselves answering to a younger boss.

But as the generation gap has changed, tighter ties have formed between the generations as well, according to AARP. With opportunities for greater intergenerational understanding, such as millennial caretakers for the elderly or the large number of millennials living with their parents, there’s a “hopeful shift away from generational hostility,” it continued.

And the divide can be more easily bridged if employees work at it, the old and the young alike.

For the older generation

The New York Times had some advice for the older set, sent in by respondents older than age 50:

  • Age-based assumptions go both ways. A younger boss or coworker, despite lacking the experience of the older generations, doesn’t necessarily need a lecture on how things used to be done. “Be open to learning from younger people,” one respondent said.
  • Project the right attitude. Counter the stereotype of old people and act with enthusiasm, energy and engagement.
  • Stay current with technology and social media — you don’t need to obsess over LinkedIn or Twitter, but don’t just dismiss them out of hand either.
  • Don’t act the victim. Focus on what you can control and know that age isn’t something that you can.
For the younger generation

Careerealism.com discussed four ways millennials could bridge the gap in their workplace:

  • If a well-respected senior employee suggests one way of doing something and you know of a more efficient way, do it their way. After the task is done, speak with them one-on-one about how it could be done better next time — by demonstrating respect for your co-worker, they’re more likely to consult you in the future.
  • Hear out your older colleagues tales of what the workplace used to be like — you may be inspired by ways to innovate those ideas for the digital age.
  • If you’re not given enough work, finish what you’ve been assigned then tell your boss you’d be “happy to tackle something that’s really challenging.”
  • If you’re left out of the more senior employees cliques and decision-making discussions, divide and conquer. Ask the most approachable member out for coffee, if that goes well ask another out to lunch … with any luck, you’ll soon be included in the discussions.
For all generations

  • Communicate early, clearly and respectfully. Be obvious about motive and ask to share ideas, according to Fastcompany.com.
  • Focus on common ground, instead of the differences between you and coworkers, American Sentinel suggested.
  • Don’t let assumptions bias you, Fastcompany.com advised.
  • Open a dialogue to share concerns and invite colleagues to respond in kind. But don’t pile on criticism, Fastcompany.com warned.
  • It’s more important to be effective than right, so instead of insisting on your way be flexible and willing to adapt to others, American Sentinel advised.

Email: smanderson@deseretnews.com, Twitter: @Sarahsonofander.

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