We’ve all heard the stereotypes of Baby Boomers and Millennials in the workplace, both flattering and unflattering. While there’s a lot of stock put into these generations, most of the problems tend to arise from uneven expectations, both on the floor and in management, simply because of the difference in age. Boomers are aging, while Millennials are coming onto the scene in full force (and generation Z, which is still in high school). Conflict is inevitable, and it can be difficult to manage a team that has a diverse generational profile. Here are 5 tips for preventing that conflict—and how to manage it when it does erupt.
1. Understand the Different Mindsets
Baby Boomers and Gen Xers were brought up to appreciate a very different style of office environment than Millennials. In the mid-21st century, milestones like getting your own office and standards like a clear path for advancement were the norm. Today, flexibility is prioritized, and Millennials tend to prefer an open office layout and a more casual environment.
Perhaps the greatest divide lies in the prioritization of technology. Many Boomers struggle with learning new technology, and tension can arise between generations when they disagree on how to accomplish a task. Simply ignoring these differences in mindset and treating everyone equally sounds good in theory, but everyone is an individual, and managers need to understand these different preferences and mindsets to help everyone thrive. In a 2013 Ernst & Young survey, 75% of managers found that managing a multigenerational workforce was challenging, with 77% of these managers citing differences in work expectations among different generations as the leading challenge. Leveraging these different mindsets for good is the challenge many managers face today.
2. Offer Different Options for Training & Development
Younger workers may not understand the value in some skills your older employees have built, which can lead to conflict. Giving everyone the opportunity to learn in different contexts will help the generations see the value in what others bring to the table. Offering different learning options will also make it easier for employees to pick and choose what works best for them.
Different options might include classes from outside consultants, self-guided courses, and even peer mentoring. Coaching and mentoring should take place from either side of the generational divide, allowing older workers to learn skills on tech and collaboration, and younger workers to learn from the experience of their older peers.
3. Hold Everyone Accountable
Don’t excuse laziness or poor attitudes based on generation. Everyone should be working hard to get the job done and work as a team. If someone is resistant to developing a necessary skill, or just not pulling their weight, don’t brush that off based on their generation alone. Everyone needs to be held to the same standards when it comes to putting in the work and making an effort to be part of the team.
4. Fight Off Your Own Biases
It’s very easy to slip into the trap of stereotyping. As a manager, it’s very important to fight off any biases you might have about different generations. Not all Millennials are entitled, and not all Boomers are resistant to change. You can recognize differences between the generations, just don’t allow yourself to be influenced by negative stereotypes.
5. Use all Your Assets
Everyone likes to be recognized for their contributions, so use that to your advantage! Use the unique assets each generation brings to the table, whether that’s the independence of Gen Xers, the collaboration of Millennials, or the business-savvy of a Boomer. Don’t ignore the generational differences—use them to your advantage!
Get feedback often from different communication channels, so you can find out what’s working—and what isn’t. Offer different options for giving this feedback so that everyone has a chance to be heard, whether they prefer to speak in person, through a suggestion box, or online. Customize your approach to each employee when providing feedback and incentives—there’s no one-size-fits all management style that works for each employee!
Leadership & Communication Is Key
Above all, communication between leadership and the team is key. Problems tend to erupt when people let things go that bother them, only to emerge later after they’ve been irritated multiple times. That’s why leaders have to be more than just peacekeepers. In order to prevent generational conflict, you have to be aware of the potential pitfalls and work every day to make sure everyone feels like a valued member of the team.