How to Navigate the Intergenerational Gap in the Workplace

Until recently, baby boomers were the largest generation in most workplaces. Times are quickly changing though. According to Deloitte’s 2014 Millennial Survey, by 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be composed of millennials. This trend presents a unique opportunity for intergenerational employees to learn from each other. It also opens up the floor to potential age discrimination.

Intergenerational Equity

Intergenerational equity can be defined as a “concept of fair treatment of different generations.” While intergenerational equity has been identified as a priority by the United Nations, we still have long ways to go before it is made a priority in the workplace.

Age Discrimination in the Workplace

Littered around the web are articles speaking out about age discrimination in the workplace. In one such article on Future of Work, a website providing insight for businesses in navigating the workplace of today, author Amy Tobin calls Millennial bashing “the last bastion of allowable workplace discrimination.”

Changing a culture of allowable discrimination requires a concerted top-down effort. Age discrimination, whether it be against Boomers or Millennials, is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated under any circumstances in the workplace.

Millennials may soon make up three-quarters of the workforce, but Generation Zs (also unfortunately dubbed the iGeneration) are starting to enter the workforce. We are now at a proverbial fork in the road – which means better ways must be found to manage this drastically changing workforce.

Commonalities Across Generations

It’s not all doom and gloom. There are a number of commonalities that transcend all generations. This is something to keep in mind to help us find ways to relate to our colleagues. Generally, all generations care about:

  • Workplace design
  • Culture of organization
  • Personal fulfillment and satisfaction
  • Support
  • Recognition and appreciation
  • Learning opportunities/Pathways to growth
  • Flexibility

Strategies to Successfully Navigate Intergenerational Relationships

There are ways we can move beyond stereotypes and snap judgements. Here are just a few tips to incorporate into your workplace to better navigate intergenerational relationships:

  • Ask Questions: Don’t be afraid to ask about a colleague’s work style or communication style. This way you’ll have a better understanding of how they work. Some companies have even developed a matrix to learn their colleague’s communication preferences.
  • Learn from Each Other: There is always something to learn from a colleague. Take time to get to know your colleague’s skills and ask them to teach you something new. This will break down barriers and facilitate respect and understanding. It’s a humbling experience to learn something new from someone you may have underestimated and overlooked.
  • Take Time to Listen: This cannot be emphasized enough. Make sure you engage in active listening. Active listening will help you earn trust and respect from your colleagues. It will also allow you to understand and solve issues more effectively.
  • Show Respect: When it comes to managing intergenerational relationships, respect is key. There are many ways you can show respect. Allow your colleagues to express their ideas and opinions. Let others be heard. Don’t assume or pass snap judgments. If you don’t show respect, then you will never be able to create a culture of trust and loyalty.
  • Give the benefit of the doubt: If someone slips and says or does something that is hurtful or discriminatory, talk to them and explain why their action(s) hurt you. They may not even know that what they’re doing is wrong.

MOSAIC’S Intercultural Diversity & Inclusion Training

MOSAIC offers Intercultural Diversity & Inclusion Trainings to build awareness and understanding of diverse behaviours and how to work with diverse teams. We help organizations create an environment where people of diverse cultures and backgrounds work together more easily and effectively.

To register or learn more, contact:

ic@mosaicbc.org 
604 708 9300 ext. 226

engage.mosaicbc.org/intercultural