People & Human Resources

How to work best with different generations

Eve Ash /

With such widespread ages at work, is it an insurmountable problem carving a suitable common space for everyone to communicate and to mix in well?

In a recent article, a self-confessed “oldie” expressed surprise at his younger colleagues’ tech and romance styles. On the one hand, he felt liberated from having to prove himself on the lunch choice and tech fronts (there’s millennials to handle the latter) but on the other, he couldn’t believe the Tinder-style decisions they were making in their social lives. His surprise was especially surprising because every so-called generation has had their own way of hooking up. 

But differences in dating styles aside, how can businesses create workplaces that all generations feel comfortable in? What are the dos and don’ts of working with baby boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and millennials?

Dos

Give different generations their space

This can vary depending on your office fitout, but not everyone likes chewing the fat in an open-plan area (even if it has funky pot plants and standing desks). By providing quiet places to work and have confidential discussions (some meeting rooms just don’t feel sufficiently private), everyone gets the best of both: conviviality when it’s welcome and a cone of silence for other times.

Encourage intranet discussions

Encourage ways to share ideas and develop open forums (making it clear they need to be respectful and moderated); it’s an opportunity for new relationships and ideas to take root.

Spearhead ideas and collaboration fests

Bring in guest speakers who represent different stages of life (make sure they’re engaging, as well as insightful), and try out some new approaches to existing work methods.

Remember we all age

Neither age nor youth has a monopoly on agility, adaptiveness, or better ways of doing things. Listening, tolerance and greater acceptance of difference must be mutual if you really want “generational glide” and workplace harmony and collaboration.

Don’ts

Generalising

Attention-grabbing headlines and pigeonholing may suit demographers and marketers, but many people don’t care to be categorised in this superficial fashion. Just because we all tend to apply the Duck test to each other doesn’t mean we should stick to it.  See everyone as an individual, not a set of generalised characteristics.

Assumptions

Don’t assume everyone loves social media, texting, and meetings. Everyone is different in how they like to communicate and while there are some similarities for certain age groups, it is never safe to assume.

And what about the term “digital natives”? It is not in itself patronising terminology, but some people make an assumption that fluency in apps and programs does not make for critical thinking skills. These need to be developed no matter what age or generation you are. The key point is never assume anything, simply based on age, in assessing skills.

Being closed

Being closed to ideas or training in new ways of doing things swings both ways. Older generations can learn new software and workplace approaches; younger generations can absorb better ways to contextualise and draw from experience. Everyone can benefit from being open and persisting with new ideas and new strategies.

Forcing people to interact socially

This is a problem in many workplaces, less so because of age and more so because we are all different in our likes and dislikes about how we spend our time socialising. At work this needs to develop organically, perhaps through collaborating on a project or pitching for new business.

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Eve Ash

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.

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