The face of the workplace is constantly evolving as one generation begins to retire and another moves up to take its place. In 2010, an office may have a mix of baby boomers (and older), Generation X-ers and Generation Y-ers all working together. Differences in education, upbringing, social norms and values may create a generation gap that leads to misunderstandings or conflicts at times, but a variety of perspectives can actually benefit and strengthen an organization.
Learn how to bridge the generation gap and build a new standard for professionalism in the workplace.
1. Look past stereotypes.
It can be easy to paint an entire age group with the same brush—all baby boomers are rigid workaholics, all 20-somethings are slackers who lack discipline, etc. Don’t give in to the temptation to generalize your colleagues and employees based on age. Take the time to get to know them as individuals, and learn what makes them each tick (the DISCself online personality test can give you remarkable insights into strengths and weaknesses). The Gen X-er on your team may have an aptitude for organized project management, and the baby boomer might surprise you with his ability to implement organizational changes.
2. Find common ground.
Instead of griping about the Gen Y’s lack of professionalism in the workplace or the older generation’s strict adherence to “the way we’ve always done things,” work to find shared principles and values. Talk about what results you want to achieve within your organization, whether that is excellent customer service or cutting-edge technology. You may discover differences in the approach taken by different age groups, but focus on the goals and you will probably find many similarities as well. Compromise on the smaller differences, and work toward common objectives.
3. Learn from each other.
One of the greatest benefits of working with several generations of people is the opportunity to learn from each other’s life experiences. A seasoned veteran in your field probably has a wealth of knowledge to share with younger employees and may make an excellent mentor. An employee fresh out of college probably has some innovative ideas to contribute to the discussion as well. Be open to everyone’s ideas and experiences, and take advantage of the chance to learn no matter what your age.
4. Listen to each other.
Sometimes it is necessary to meet people halfway on issues that are important to them. For example, if older colleagues see a more formal dress code as an indicator of professionalism in the workplace, stick to a business attire policy with casual Fridays. And if other team members put a strong emphasis on a work-life balance, be respectful of everyone’s time by not expecting people to work on weekends or holidays.
Learn more about professionalism in the workplace with the Professional Presence in a Casual World course.
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