3 ways to bridge generational gaps in your organization

Generation Z has finally entered the workforce. Indeed, the younger generation of employees is expected to represent more than a quarter of the workforce in just two years. The other three-quarters will be a mix of millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers not ready for retirement. This means you’ll need to figure out how best to run a multi-generational workplace.

That’s a big “ask” by anyone’s measuring stick. Gen Z has already upended the status quo with their completely different take on the employer-employee relationship. (Spoiler alert: they expect to be treated as peers by everyone else, earning them the “hardest generation to deal with” badge from bosses.) However, Gen Z is not not the only one with unique desires. Baby boomers are competitive and want visibility. Generation X prioritizes education and self-reliance. Millennials expect fairness and hope that their work can be meaningful.

Where does this take you? If you’re like many leaders, you’re trying to figure out how to make sure everyone’s needs are met to avoid a massive drop in productivity and turnover that hurts profitability.

Before assuming you can ever solve this mystery, take a deep breath. It’s not as difficult as it may seem to get everyone on your team moving towards the same goal. You just need to put some basic strategies in place. Try the following suggestions. They will help you foster a comfortable work atmosphere for everyone on your payroll.

1. Load cross-generational teams with innovation-related projects.

Chances are you’re already looking for ways to bring more innovation into your business. One way to spark innovative thinking is to put together diverse teams that bring different experiences, backgrounds, stories and visions. A diverse team of employees from at least two or more generations has the ability to find innovative solutions for your organization.

Author, keynote speaker and innovation strategy consultant, Dr. Simone Ahuja is an advocate for deliberately building multi-generational teams and coaching them to think like intrapreneurs. As she explains, “Diversity leads to more and better ideas, and more revenue from innovation.”

Ahuja adds that making multi-generational teams the norm could be an exceptional way to attract talent:

“Intergenerational collaboration is a significant differentiation that large organizations can offer to new generations who need institutional knowledge and leadership development, and to more established workers who may need assistance in areas such as technology and maintaining cognitive flexibility.”

Remember that cross-generational teams have the side benefit of fueling the cross-pollination of ideas. Over time and with consistent practice, you would end up with a group of workers who naturally mingle despite generational gaps. As a result, you may find that mentorships happen organically between seasoned workers and new ones. If so, consider leaning into the trend and creating formal mentorship programs as part of your (and successful!) succession planning.

2. Design inclusive workspaces and schedules.

Have you anticipated a silver tsunami of retirees in your workforce? Rather than sitting back and letting the waves wash away some of your most dedicated long-term employees, consider revamping your workspace and workflows. Making everything more inclusive can help you retain your oldest employees and avoid losing all the inherent know-how they have.

For example, you might want to rethink the way your office is set up based on everyone’s age and related needs. You may also want to make it easier for your employees to adapt their schedules or even switch to part-time schedules without losing some of their key benefits. According to a study, most baby boomers would rather work occasionally than stop working altogether. And Gen Z and Millennials appreciate the ability to organize their “walking” hours around their preferred lifestyles and personal obligations.

There is no downside to updating the entire structural makeup of your workspaces and protocols. As long as tasks are completed and customer needs are met, you will reap many immediate and long-term rewards. And if you’re not sure what “inclusive” workspaces and schedules look like for your team members, ask them. Collecting feedback through surveys and focus groups should help you understand how to best serve each generation in your business.

3. Continue to remain flexible in all forms.

Before the pandemic, flexibility at some companies meant being able to take an hour off early once in a blue moon to get to a meeting or watch your child’s soccer game. Now flexibility has a whole new face and you may not be giving it enough face time or credibility as you think. The concept of flexibility can mean so many things: flexible hours, the ability to work from home, unlimited holidays… the list goes on.

Your company may not be able to provide all your employees with all the flexibility options they want. However, don’t automatically say “no” when a request for flexibility crosses your executive desk. A 2022 ADP Research Institute survey showed that 64% of workers said they would quit their job if they couldn’t work on at least a hybrid (if not fully remote) flex schedule. They weren’t just Gen Z employees either; the survey included multi-generational respondents.

Cross-generational connection sets you up for continued success

The fact is that the traditional way of working is no longer enough. But the evolution of the workplace doesn’t seem quite over yet. Other ways to provide flexibility may start to appear as we move forward, and you can’t be left behind.

Stay tuned to what other companies are doing to stay flexible. Whenever reasonable, beta test some of the best solutions within your own team. Even if some efforts don’t work, your employees will see that you’re trying to meet them where they are instead of forcing them to comply with old-fashioned work demands. This is sure to boost morale and keep trust high, as well as showing that you care about all the generations represented by your staff.

The next time you find yourself lamenting the hodgepodge of generations that make up your business, stop. Yes, it’s hard to figure out how to keep them all satisfied. But it’s worth spending the time and energy to make sure all voices are welcome on your team.

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