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Six Steps to Bridge Generational Gaps in the Workplace

October 25, 2022

I’ve been with FleishmanHillard for a little over a year now and while there are many perks, my co-workers are my favorite part of the job. Naturally, I appreciate the things I have in common with my colleagues. At the same time, I’ve also learned to enjoy what makes us unique – including the lived experiences that come with the variety of generations in the workplace today.

A generational gap is defined as the different thoughts and worldviews held by different generational cohorts. And with five unique generations currently coexisting in a constantly evolving workplace environment, considering the generational gaps among your workforce may be a crucial missing piece of your current internal communications planning strategy.

Generally speaking, each of the generations listed below tends to have a different set of values, motivations, communications preferences and workplace expectations:

  • Traditionalists (born before 1946)
  • Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)
  • Generation X (born between 1965 and 1976)
  • Generation Y, or Millennials (born between 1977 and 1997)
  • Generation Z (born after 1997)

While generational differences are not always apparent, their effects can be. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, ignoring generational differences in the workplace has been shown to limit collaboration, spark emotional conflict and lead to higher employee turnover and lower team performance.

As employers continue to recover from the pandemic and address its lasting impacts, attempting to bridge generational gaps may be the missing link that better aligns, connects and engages a workforce.

But how do you bridge the gap between employees who seem to differ in so many ways? Consider these six simple approaches.

1. Assess communication preferences. Each generation gravitates toward a unique communication style. While communication preferences will vary from person to person, the list below provides commonly preferred channels and formats by generation. Tailoring your communication style to best fit their preferences can help drive awareness and understanding of business-critical information: 

  • Traditionalists and Baby Boomers generally prefer formal and direct communication, either face-to-face or through phone calls.
  • Generation X generally prefers less formal communication through email or text.
  • Millennials generally lean toward immediate communications through instant messaging platforms.
  • Generation Z generally appreciates visual, face-to-face communications, in person or via video chatting apps.

While these preferences can help guide your communications with each generation, you should always strive to understand your employees on an individual level.  

2. Focus on flexibility and empathy. Flexibility is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a must. The pandemic has made it undeniably clear that employees want and need greater autonomy. As employees continue to adapt to new ways of working, ensure you’re cultivating a culture of flexibility and empathy. Some employees may be slower to adapt to flexible work arrangements, new technology and updated processes than others, and you should encourage everyone to be understanding of that.

3. Cultivate trust and belonging. Recognizing and acknowledging the value each generation brings to the table is critical to building trust and belonging within your workforce. Fostering a culture where employees are encouraged and empowered to share their unique perspectives and experiences is effective as both a business and people strategy.

4. Provide mentorship opportunities. Mentorship is a great way to connect employees of different ages and experiences. It provides employees a chance to learn and teach as they continue to grow in their careers. Consider establishing a program that connects senior leaders with junior talent and matches employees based on their work interests. To build trust with, and confidence in, younger generations, consider a reverse mentoring program that allows junior employees and new hires to play the role of mentor.

5. Connect employees beyond work. Create opportunities for employees to connect outside of work and get to know each other. While hosting events like happy hours, coffee chats and team dinners isn’t groundbreaking, employees are craving these activities as the world continues to reopen. These events provide employees the opportunity to build personal relationships that make work fun and help cultures thrive.  

6. Show appreciation. Acknowledging employees who go above and beyond helps to close generational gaps. Be sure to thank those who go out of their way to learn about their colleagues in and out of the workplace, who take extra time to train or onboard those who aren’t adapting as quickly as others, or who come to you with new ideas to better connect the workforce. Let them know you appreciate their effort to create a better, more inclusive and welcoming workplace.

Generational gaps can present challenges in the workplace. However, a generationally diverse workforce also allows employers to enhance employee satisfaction and drive increased collaboration and innovation through employees’ unique perspectives, experiences and ideas.

And by cultivating a workplace culture where all generations are appreciated, trusted and given the opportunity to teach and learn from each other, employers convert generational gaps into bridges.