SelectOne Blog

How To: Bridge Generation Gaps at Work


 As Millennials infiltrate the workforce, Baby Boomers are taken back by their differences. This generation gap has the potential to cause friction between employees, which is why it's so important for employers to be aware of these differences.  For example, Millennials and Baby Boomers are likely to have different reactions on the following topics:

Listening to music at work:

The Millennial says:  "Listening to music helps me stay relaxed, focused and more productive.  It keeps my mood up and makes the day fly by!"

The Baby Boomer says:  "How can anyone possibly stay focused with headphones in or while listening to incessant noise!"

Flexibility and work/life balance:

Millennial:  "Flexibility is key – I want to work at a company where I can come and go as I please within reason as long as the job gets done."

Baby Boomer:  "Putting time in at work and maintaining a schedule is a sign of respect and part of the job – I work until the job gets done right, even if it’s on my own time."

Career development, promotions, and raises:

Millennial:  "I want to work at a company where they show me a path to grow; I want to see others before me that have grown and be shown the way."

Baby Boomer:  "I worked very hard to get to where I am, and there were no assurances along the way that my path would lead here!  I made my own path."

Dressing for success:

Millennial:  "Skinny jeans and hoodies don’t prevent me from being productive – they keep me comfortable and help do my best for my employer every day."

Baby Boomer:  "It’s important to look the part and act the part.  If you want to be taken seriously, you need to dress like a professional."

This seeming cultural discord depicted above driven by generational divides plays out in many workplaces.  But which perspective is right?  And is it possible to keep different generations not only happy, but productive and collaborative?

The reality is neither approach is right per se, and, absolutely it is possible for generations to not only coexist but thrive together in the modern workplace.  Diversity of perspective is an important element of a successful company.  There are some simple steps to be taken to help drive good outcomes:

  1. Set Expectations:  Clearly define the culture you want and set specific expectations and norms.  Make sure there is no ambiguity, and let employees know why adherence is important.  Want to promote flexibility, but still feel it’s necessary for certain teams to be in the office by a specific time due to client demands?  Promoting a flexible culture need not die as a result – just be sure to communicate what is expected and why.
  2. Drive Accountability:  Once expectations are set and communicated, make sure everyone is held accountable.  The moment employees on one team or group see others held to different standards, the defined, communicated culture will begin to erode fast!
  3. The Right People:  Hire people who align company values and culture. It doesn’t matter whether the person is a Millennial, Gen X, Gen Y, or Baby Boomer, so long as they embody the values of the team and connect with the vision of the culture that is being created.

Perspectives like the generalizations above may seem mutually exclusive; yet, they’re not.  Both perspectives are entirely reasonable and can coexist as part of a healthy company culture.  I love wearing jeans and listening to music at work as much as anyone, but sometimes the situation calls for a more formal approach.  Set clear expectations, drive accountability, and hire the right people to drive a winning culture!


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