In today’s business organizations, a boss is like an orchestra conductor. I borrowed this analogy because like a conductor who sets the tempo and ensures correct entries by each musician in the orchestra, a boss’ job is to know when and how to make different talents and skills of his employees work in the collective benefit of the organization.
Although, a great deal of responsibility also lies on each individual employee to adjust himself among the staff in the best possible way. However, these efforts are no match to the way a boss can cope with the differences among his workforce.
And one of these major differences is the generation gap — here’s an earlier post I wrote on the different ways Generation X and millennials behave in the workplace. Now let’s look at how we can turn this situation in your favor.
Steer Away from Stereotypes
Generalizing the members of a group for the sake of understanding is fine, but when we engrave these aspects in our minds, stereotypes develop. Generation X is annoyed by technology and avoid its usage while Millennials are gadget freaks, is one of the many common stereotypes associated with the two generations, and both of which are wrong.
In my view, boss must first overcome any prior assumptions he has about the two generational groups in order to be a better manager. Instead of applying certain traits to an entire generation, you should try to get to know each person individually.
Once you clear you own mind of the prejudices and stereotypes, it will become easier for you to pass on the concept of generational neutrality to your staff as well. The task of the boss here is to encourage collaborated diversity and move his employees away from tags and labels.
Assign Mutually Interesting Tasks
There is a famous saying that, "you will only get to know someone once you live with them or work with them".
Of course, you cannot expect your employees to do the former (that would be ridiculous and creepy), but what you can do is to make them work together.
Rather than running office memos and dry emails urging employees to work with each other, the better way is to assign them tasks that both generations might be interested in.
For instance, for a project that involves on-desk research as well as certain field work, you can allocate a team of Xers and Millennials on it. It is not a matter of stereotyping, but I am pretty sure Generation X would gladly take up its research part, and Millennials would appreciate some fresh air.
Create Learning Opportunities
One of the biggest aspect of inter-generational harmony at the workplace is to create opportunities for the employees to learn from each other.
From my personal experience, when someone teaches me something, you automatically have a sense of respect for him or her. You might also feel indebted towards your mentor and often seek to return the favor.
Working on the same line, cross-generational mentoring can open so many doors of collaboration for the two generations.
For tasks involving latest technology, you can suggest an employee of Generation X to seek help from a tech-savvy employee of Generation Y, and for a project assigned to Millennial that involves basic institutional knowledge, you can propose asking for help from an experienced Generation X employee.
Customized Management Style
As I mentioned in the previous article, Generation X and Y grew up experiencing significantly different events that have shaped their professional values and perception of work.
So if their values are different, and their professional DNAs don’t match with each other, then why should the management style used on them be the same?
For more productive workforce, a boss should tailor his management style according to the particular values and characteristics of each group, and subsequently to further narrow it down, to each individual employee.
For instance, Xers and Millennials like to communicate differently, so from face-to-face meetings, emails, telephone to even instant messaging, try to offer a variety of communication tools within the office. In the matter of working style you can even ask your employees to choose whatever method suits them, provided it does not affect their productivity.
Set a Personal Example
On top of using personalized management styles as the employer you will also need to set a personal example of yourself. This is important because the way you behave and conduct business around the workplace is reflected in your employees.
If you want your employees to be free from prejudice and work in smooth collaboration, you should overcome your own demons first.
In a place where people of different ages, qualifications and backgrounds work together, conflicts do arise. Be aware of these conflicts but don’t take them on too much by yourself. The market is a jungle that only allows the strongest to survive. Your team can only be as strong as you are.
Wrapping it Up
Diversity at workplace means you have a whole deck of cards to play with in the business game. However, workplace diversity also often means complexity and friction among the employees.
In the case of a workplace, the expression that "age is just a number" is actually true, because it is not about the difference in age, but the differences in the core values of each generation.
You will find people with poor work ethics in every generation, just the same as you’ll find both young and old employees as truly outstanding workers.
As the boss and leader of the organization, the key to successful collaboration between Gen-X and Millennials is in your hands. Every employee brings something to the table, even Gen-Z who are entering the market soon, if not already.
However, it is your task to make use of the goodies the right way and to motivate your employees to build functional workplace relationships for collective success of the organization.
You might also like: How to hire & keep millennials