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Overcoming the Generational Gap in Today’s Workplace: Easier Said Than Done

In an earlier time, the workplace was dominated by one or two generations and it was often possible to do business mostly with people close to your own age. Not anymore.

Good leaders know we’re all more comfortable working with people from our own age and background. Every generation sees the world through a filter shaped by its formative experiences. Thus, generational peers are likely to “speak the same language.” Sending the wrong generational signals creates a generation gap. Today there are four major generations in the workplace:

  • Matures (born before 1946)
  • Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)
  • Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979)
  • Millennials (born between 1980 and 1997)

 Connecting with Matures

Duty and sacrifice are at the heart of the Mature mindset. Matures usually do not have an inflated ego or sense of self-importance and they don’t expect special treatment but they do believe they have earned a certain amount of deference and respect for all that they have accomplished. Keep the following in mind when communicating with Matures:

  • Clearly Communicate what is needed from them and their teammates.
  • Matures prefer to communicate face-to-face, by telephone, and by mail.
  • Matures prefer to read documents on paper not on a screen.

Connecting with Baby Boomers

Boomers have a work ethic measured in face-time. Commitment to “team” is paramount and face-to-face skills are critical to success. Boomers tend to be optimists. Boomers are of two minds on technology. They recognize that technology is now ubiquitous, but a good number aren’t convinced it has made things better. Keep the following in mind when communicating with Boomers:

  • Face-to-face or via phone is the preferred way to communicate.
  • Focus on team goals – work in individual recognition.
  • Assume that even older Boomers think of themselves as young, fit, and active.

Connecting with Generation X

Gen Xers have learned to be skeptical of just about everything. Address their innate cynicism with back-up plans for the inevitable time when problems arise. Xers dislike hierarchy, prefer transparent communication, and value efficiency. They embrace technology and use it in most aspects of their lives. Keep the following in mind when communicating with Gen Xers:

  • Get straight to the point.
  • Probably will prefer email updates.
  • They likely will let your calls go to voicemail.
  • Dislike face to face: Will not want to make hard decisions face to face.

Connecting with Millennials

Build rapport with Millennials by recognizing their individuality and accomplishments. They live in a digital world – texting, email, and social media are musts. This generation regards personal information much differently than older generations. They share info more freely and may know the “nitty gritty” details of friends’ and business associates’ lives.

  • Be authentic – don’t try to fake youth or “cool.”
  • Recognize individuality and uniqueness.
  • Texting is OK. Preferred! Just do it!

Remember, no one can be all things to all people. No leader can be everyone’s best friend. But if a leader can earn a little likability by connecting across generational lines, it will go a long way towards getting others to help them achieve their objectives.

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