Bridging the Gap: Maximizing the Benefits of Working in an Intergenerational Office | Best Best & Krieger LLP



Mrunal Shah of BB&K on understanding generational strengths and styles to work as a more effective unit

There is an old adage widely attributed to George Bernard Shaw that says: “If the youth is wasted on the young, then wisdom is wasted on the old. ” Although the interpretation may vary, the saying within it seems to illustrate the importance of gleaning from different generations.

Let’s establish some definitions to ensure a consistent reference:

  • Baby boomers: born in 1946-1964
  • Generation X: born 1965-1980
  • Millennials / Generation Y: born 1981-1995
  • Generation Z: born 1996-2010

While baby boomers have dominated the workforce for decades, according to, in 2019, Millennials were the largest generation group in the United States, with an estimated population of 72.1 million. The ever-changing makeup of our population is driving changes in workplace dynamics across all industries and shaping public policies in municipalities across the country. With the dominant generation so young (and not necessarily dominant in terms of expertise or authority), it is more important than ever to recognize that each generation has many important attributes and perspectives that serve to enhance the overall mission of the job. Our goal, then, should be for workplaces to employ a variety of tools that promote intergenerational understanding, respect, learning and unity.

Transforming generational barriers into generational bridges
People of different generations tend to value different methods of communication and different ways of working. Understanding and appreciating generational preferences can help break down stereotypes and barriers to foster a more cohesive workplace. Here are some tools to help you:

Understand the preferred communication
A 2017 study by Robert Half Management Resources found that communication is the most difficult aspect of managing a workplace with up to four generations of employees. Specifically, 30% of executives surveyed said communication styles make the biggest difference between employees of different generations.

Research has found that baby boomers tend to be more reserved, Gen X prefers a command and command style, Gen Y prefers a more collaborative approach to communication, and Gen Z prefers face-to-face interactions. To turn this barrier into a bridge, team members can directly discuss the ways they each prefer to communicate. For example, younger employees may prefer an email or text message while older employees may prefer phone or in-person conversations. It can also apply to different ways of learning. Some younger employees may want to watch a video tutorial, while an older employee may prefer a hands-on approach to learning.

Tool: Encourage teams to ask questions, replace assumptions, and design communication strategies with others in mind.

Understand the preferred working methods
Many millennials enjoy work environments that allow for the integration of work and life, while baby boomers prefer to go to the office then home, which keeps their worlds separate. This difference has become particularly relevant due to COVID-19. Younger generations may have found it easier to adapt to working from home and managing emerging technologies (e.g. Zoom), while older generations may have found it difficult to work with the same goal and keep up with each other. adapt to new professional interaction platforms. Some of the younger generations have been grateful for the balance that working from home has provided and are therefore more reluctant to return to the office full time while others may prefer to return to the office for time and space to work. dedicated. Understanding employee needs and commitments should be a priority in a multigenerational workplace.

Tool: Workplaces can conduct surveys to understand preferred work arrangements, then seek flexible solutions based on those findings.

Understand (and take advantage of) different working approaches
Older generations have proven experience, expertise and ways of approaching work. What the younger generations lack experience, they make up for with innovation, creativity and the desire to have a positive impact in the world. Rather than assuming that younger generations simply need to learn the proven approaches, workplaces should recognize that combining the two approaches to work will produce the best results. Providing seasoned professionals with the opportunity to mentor a younger employee leverages different generations and their experiences to benefit your organization. Older employees can share their knowledge and experience while getting help with their workload. Young employees can come up with innovative ideas and technological approaches that complement the work of their mentor and the organization as a whole. This will improve your team and also help with succession planning across all of your departments.

Tool: Consider establishing a formal mentoring program in your municipality and encourage older employees to take the younger ones under their wing, while listening and trying out their ideas.

Understanding generational differences is important for both operational success and employee satisfaction. With a little communication and consideration, the generational gap can be bridged to ensure a harmonious work environment.

This article first appeared on September 27, 2021. Republished with permission.

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