By Esther Francis Joseph
Today’s complicated office structure is made up of several different generations of employees, yet there are two that can be radically different: Baby Boomers (approaching retirement; born between 1946 and 1964) and Millennials (entering the workforce; between the ages of 18 to 30). Each age group is distinct in its own way. When the groups are balanced they bring value, but when at odds, they can make the workplace an unpleasant environment for all. The workplace is destined to remain this way for some time since today’s economy has dictated that more people continue to work instead of retiring. What that means is the workplace is staffed by intergenerational employees and the office space confronted with problems caused by the age differences between those groups.
Some of the common intergenerational workplace problems include the following:
Problem 1: Older workers treat Millenials like children. Millennials who want to come to work in casual clothes are sometimes the subject of discussion and disrespect amongst Baby Boomers in the office. Older supervisors frequently micro-manage Millennials, especially their computer use. Baby Boomers believe that Millennials waste company resources by socializing, and spending too much time on social networking sites and emails and keep a tight rein on how Millennials use their work time. Millennials feel like they are treated more like the Baby Boomers’ grand-children rather than their coworkers.
Younger staff members need to understand that Baby Boomers are often heavily invested in their work. They are efficient, and focus on quality rather than quantity, and plan for their retirement. Their preferred form of communicating is via telephone or in person. They often consider reliance on technology and social media the juvenile behavior of children.
Baby Boomers are rule followers; they step into their role at work and adapt to it. Millennials feel that their job should be flexible and mesh with the other aspects of their lives. This creates a disparity in the way these two age groups regard their duties at the same workplace. By understanding and respecting each other’s point of view, coworkers can make necessary compromises in attitudes and behavior to make their office fitting for all age groups. Millennials would be well advised to follow guidelines considered “hard and fast” by their more seasoned counterpart. At the same time, Baby Boomers and Generation X employees would do well to allow Millennials some leeway in situations that do not affect work quality in order to keep the younger generation motivated.
Problem 2: Lack of workplace etiquette in younger employees. A common complaint from older employees is that the younger staff shows a lack of protocol in the workplace. This includes, but is not limited to:
- No notice from younger employees who decide to change jobs
- Unprofessional emails
- Texting during meetings
- Inappropriate dress
Baby Boomers must realize that these actions may not be an intentional lack of disrespect, but a hallmark of the generation. Millennials are a multi-tasking group that communicates primarily by social media, and their texting is sometimes work-related. Unlike their older counterpart, Millennials celebrate diversity, value friends the same as family, live for the moment and thrive on a flexible yet supportive structured work environment.
When younger people find themselves in intergenerational offices they should learn and respect the office policies of the company for which they work. This does not mean giving up individuality but rather a presentation of workplace courtesy. Giving adequate notice when leaving a job; being professional in all forms of communication; abiding by a company dress codes; and learning the guidelines for texting in the office are simply good manners.
Problem 3: Lack of respect for young management from older employees. When an older worker moves to a company with younger management, they can feel out of place. When a younger coworker is promoted, older workers may find it difficult, and resist giving the proper level of respect to the newly promoted person. While management cannot make older workers feel comfortable working with younger coworker or force respect from older to younger employees, they have the duty to set the tone that they want their employees to follow
Often giving respect earns respect. It is one of the core values that motivates the Baby Boomer generation. Younger management should make an effort to communicate and improve the tone of the office, they will often find that respect will come with time and results. When Baby Boomers see that younger managers are effective, respect follows.
Problem 4: A work environment that suits one generation but not another. Many different work environments exist today. An established law firm with a strict dress code and rules could be a difficult fit for a Millennial, but without the expertise of a younger workforce, firms such as these would find it tough to compete in today’s market. Companies such as Facebook and Google who are managed by younger, creative managers could be a hard adjustment for older employees. However, without the experience and expertise of older staff members, companies could make costly mistakes.
Before accepting a job offer, Millennials need to know what the office rules are. Older employees should seek out guidelines concerning expectations for the job in a younger office setting. Baby Boomers must let go of pre-conceived models of what is right and wrong and must adapt to the new workplace, while still holding on to their traditional work ethics. All the age groups should strive to fit in and be productive members of their work team, while staying true to who they are.
What Business Can Do: Businesses can facilitate the challenges of their intergenerational staff in a variety of ways, such as creating a forum in which employees can discuss challenges, instituting a mentoring program, and offering communication training. Strategic interpersonal communication methods can help ease the challenges different generations will face as they work together. The current job market and workplace demand that companies foster the positive characteristics of each age group if they are to prosper in these trying economic times.
Esther Francis Joseph is a personal coach and author of, “Memories of Hell, Visions of Heaven: A Story of Survival, Transformation, and Hope,” her personal story of survival and perseverance, despite a violent childhood. Growing up on the picturesque island of St. Lucia, Esther molded her literary talents with her childhood experiences as she continues down her path to leading a joyous and fulfilled adult life.