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Bridging the Generation Gap: How Leaders Can Communicate with All Employees

By Barbara Beauregard   |    January 30, 2015   |    11:23 AM

Using Leadership Skills to Effectively Communicate with Different Types of Workers

Multigenerational workplaces are the norm these days. Age differences in offices can range as much as 20 to 30 years, and these people typically have different motivations. A recent article in the Huffington Post showed that Baby Boomers (born after World War II) and Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1982) are typically motivated by similar factors: company growth, increasing revenue, filling gaps, hiring new employees, etc.

Millennials (born between 1982 and the early 2000s) on the other hand are more interested in being independent, and they want the company’s values and mission to align more with their own. An additional problem is that more and more people are reporting to managers younger than they are, and this trend is likely to continue. Different work mentalities and experience can cause conflict within an organization. An adept manager, however, can learn to bridge these gaps.

Steps to Bridge Generational Gaps

If generational differences are causing issues, a manager can use the following tips to make the teams better:

  • Understand each person’s needs: Studies show that each generation has different needs within an office environment. Baby Boomers typically want respect even if they are a subordinate. Generation Xers like to learn and be given feedback. Millennials like leadership and mentorship, but they also like to have their ideas respected. Older generations tend to believe that working longer hours is the best way to succeed. Younger generations like more of a work/life balance. Understanding each employee’s needs is a necessity to get them to work hard for the organization.
  • Communication is key: Each generation is different in the way that they communicate. Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are more apt to pick up the phone and call someone. Millennials, however, typically communicate via devices – i.e. texting or social media. Helping older generations understand this type of communication will be a major goal of management.
  • Teach respect: Millennials need to be taught that Baby Boomers have seen plenty of changes in the marketplace and through experience know how to react appropriately. Many younger people believe that older generations are just stuck in their ways. Much of this has to do with this experience, and Millennials need to respect that. Older generations, however, need to respect that Millennials know more about the Internet and modern technology.
  • Create opportunities for mentoring: As mentioned earlier, Millennials do like mentoring, and Baby Boomers can offer them plenty of advice. Millennials can help Boomers learn new technologies. Provide as many opportunities for these two generations to learn from each other.
  • Put together cross-generational teams: Another way to learn from each other is via cross-generational project teams. Let the team members work together on projects and see the benefits of different viewpoints.
  • Institute a feedback/conflict resolution process: If conflicts are occurring, have a policy in place that lets the team know that they can come to the manager with concerns. Institute a conflict resolution plan early. For example, if a particular person is consistently having problems with an older or younger teammate, send them to some type of sensitivity class.
  • In the end, the manager makes the decisions: While the manager can accommodate different generational motivations and needs, the person will still make the final decision on how to proceed. The team must respect that decision – no matter what the age group.

The experience of every generation is valuable. A good leader knows this and tries to use it to make the team and company better.