3 Strategies for Managing Generational Differences in the Workplace

15. January 2021

Different generations, different ideas: with the rising dominance and entry of Gen Z into the work world, a lot is changing for managers, employees and the working culture as a whole. New colleagues are bringing fresh ideas with them and have an unwavering command of digital communication.

Leaders find it easy to manage employees and teams that share the same values and have a similar range of experience as they do. Today, however, Baby Boomers are encountering Millennials at work and Gen Z is not too far behind now – all under one roof, in one team, in one organisation. How do you best communicate with colleagues and how do you reconcile the differences between various generations?

1. Actively develop your own communication culture

Communication is the link that unites every single part of your organisation. When communication is not smooth between employees and teams, this can create a strain on the work atmosphere throughout the whole office. The damage to the organisation can be significant: those who do not communicate well with each other may find it challenging to create common goals and achieve positive workplace collaboration.

People are different and therefore we all differ in our style of communication. Depending on our character, we communicate either emotionally or rationally, personally or factually.

Baby Boomers are sometimes considered reserved, whereas working with Millennials and Gen Z is often perceived as open-minded and collaborative. Younger generations question the added value of classic hierarchy models, whilst Baby Boomers find orientation and support in these types of structures.

How to reconcile different communication styles

These characteristics can give you orientation when communicating across different generations. Every individual has their own style and so you should work together on a communication culture suitable for your organisation.

Discuss how you feel about communicating with each other. Establish an open exchange on how communication works best and in which situations.

  • Reserve two minutes for feedback on communication at the end of every meeting.
  • Encourage your colleagues to reflect briefly on how the communication worked at the end of each dialogue.
  • This short feedback loop means you get to know the advantages and disadvantages of different means and styles of communication.
  • Regularly revisit the lessons learned and discuss with each other where you can become even better.

This way, you learn together across the generations how communication works best – regardless of age, length of service and personal preferences.

Email, video call, chat message or maybe a personal telephone call? Never before have you had more opportunities to communicate with your colleagues in the workplace. Learn here how to make the best use of the numerous means of communication to achieve your goals.

2. Learn to efficiently use digital tools as a team

As the first generation to grow up in a fully connected world, Gen Z are considered the ultimate digital natives. Handling new technologies has become second nature to them, and they know the feeling of freedom that these technologies bring. Communication and work are possible anytime, anywhere – the main thing is that they are equipped with cloud communications solutions.

By contrast, Gen X and older Millennials are digital immigrants who have learned how to use technologies little by little. When it comes to technology, they assume that there is always something that won’t work properly. By comparison, Gen Z has an enlightened and liberated relationship to digital innovations and they know how to use them intuitively.

How to bring digital natives and digital immigrants together

Both generation types can learn a lot from each other when dealing with technology. Technological development is not slowing down, and companies cannot afford to disregard it. Grinding to a halt is simply not an option, and the best way to bring digital natives and digital immigrants together is through intergenerational mentoring programmes:

  • Institutionalise mentoring programmes in which long-term employees train newcomers in all the processes of the organisation.
  • Parallel to this, set up reverse mentoring programmes in which digital natives show older colleagues how they use technology.
  • An important prerequisite: modern technology is part of the basic equipment of every workplace, no matter who is working.
  • Standardise your organisation’s toolset and ensure that every employee has access to all cloud communication solutions and collaboration tools – lack of access must not become an excuse for non-use.
  • Offer each employee a basic training programme in which the basics of using technology are explained – not as something compulsory, but as a possibility, especially for colleagues who feel unsure.
  • Monitor how your organisation uses the tools offered and share the status with the entire organisation.

For younger generations, a modern workplace is a sign of recognition. It signals that the organisation is doing everything in its power to give employees the opportunity to be successful at work. This is a fundamentally positive attitude from which older colleagues can learn, particularly those that are unfamiliar with technology.

Millennials and Gen Z have grown up in a connected world and have a healthy relationship to technology. Older generations occasionally feel overwhelmed, and there is sometimes talk of digital burnout. Try to break your technology addiction! Find out how to do this here.

3. Encourage productive work through common goals

Each generation has a different notion of working hours, office design and employee management. Baby Boomers have grown up in the age of the presence culture.Whilst the office used to be an anchor point of work for any generation, it plays a less important role for Millennials and Gen Z.

Millennials and Gen Z seek their happiness in fulfilling and meaningful activities. Productivity is the key to happiness in the workplace. Those that work productively are successful – and success can in turn lead to happier professionals.

How to convey a new idea of performance and success

Common goals are needed in order to reconcile the experiences, habits and preferences of all generations. This is the new challenge that managers in particular have to confront.

The clearer you define the ideas of what an organisation should achieve, the better all employees can seek to make them a reality. Unnecessary conflicts due to misleading objectives can be avoided.

  • Give all employees regular feedback, on a weekly basis. Gen Z in particular is addicted to this, because they want to know if they are making a significant contribution to the organisation.
  • Personal feedback on a weekly basis not found in incredibly long email threads will be a new experience for many older employees. But it’s an experience that has an effect and encourages personal commitment.
  • Work can be done anywhere, anytime. A strict commitment to place and time may seem outdated for new generations thus unnecessary provided that goals are clearly defined for each individual employee.
  • In addition to personal goals, clear objectives are also important at the team level: what do we want to achieve together? Team objectives bring the generations together.

Deep down, every employee wants to do a good job. Young generations bring fresh ideas to the debate surrounding conventional working models based on hierarchies and presence. The new world of work, promoted by Millennials and Gen Z can also empower older generations. In the end, organisations benefit from motivated, productive and communicative employees.

Young generations bring a breath of fresh air to the working world. With a lifestyle trimmed for individuality and productivity, Millennials and Gen Z show how to perform tasks efficiently. Some bad habits in the workplace will soon be a thing of the past. Read here to find out what they are!