“A divided country” is a prevalent theme in America today, and simultaneously many business leaders find the need for their employees to work well together has never been more important – or perhaps more challenging.
For the first time in modern history, the workforce consists of four and sometimes five generations within a single company. That age/experience difference can lead to varied ways of looking at things – and also varied ways in which co-workers perceive those from another generation. Research by firms that explore office interaction reveals generation gaps in areas such as communication style, goals, adaptation to change, and technical skills.
Bosses face the challenge of how to bridge these differences.
“It starts with dropping the stereotypes,” says Sue Hawkes, a leadership expert and author of Chasing Perfection: Shatter the Illusion, Minimize Self-Doubt & Maximize Success. “Belief in generational stereotypes limits your ability to harness the best from everyone at the table. A company’s leader can learn how to unlock potential from all generations by engaging everyone around shared values.”
Hawkes provides four tips on how business leaders can get employees in a multi-generational company to work well together through effective communication:
• Building bridges. Despite wide age disparities, common ground needs to be found. Hawkes says that requires investing the time to learn about others and their motivations. “The research and conversations about generations tend to focus on the differences,” Hawkes says. “Millennials, for instance, get a bad rap in the working world, like they have an inflated sense of entitlement. Yet research shows they share some traits with entrepreneurs.”
• Daily check-ins. Reading the temperature in your multi-generational office doesn’t include trying to read employees’ minds. Hawkes emphasizes that younger people new to their career need interaction. “Don’t assume people you’re mentoring haven’t asked a question because they already know the answer,” Hawkes says. “Be proactive and make daily check-ins a habit. It gives them a chance to air thoughts and ask questions.”
• Share a big enough “why.” Employees of all ages and backgrounds are key gears that turn the big wheel. At the center of that wheel is the why – essentially, the core values of the company culture. “Some people are put off by a new or younger employee’s need to know the why for the things they’re asked to do,” Hawkes says. “Once rules and methods are explained as connections to success, everybody moves forward with a renewed purpose.”
• Set clear expectations for projects, goals. No matter what generation leaders are from, they should make sure their mentee or employee understands exactly what they want and how with a specific timeline. “It’s important to be explicitly clear,” Hawkes says. “Someone from a different generation may not have the same ideas about what is relevant and necessary toward certain business objectives.”
“I challenge the belief that any generation can be categorized and generalized in behavior,” Hawkes says. “We can move from seeing the barriers between us to a place of common ground and opportunity, doing so with courageous and open conversations expanding on what each person brings to the table.”