“I’m one of the youngest people in my office. Almost everyone else is at least 20 years older than me and has been at this company forever. I feel like they don’t GET me and like we’re speaking different languages sometimes. How can I make this better?” – Angela from Roanoke, VA
Today’s workforce is more diverse than ever. Members of earlier generations are delaying retirement, meaning that many workplaces now have individuals with a wide range of ages working under the same roof.
Here’s a quick overview of the four generations currently working today, courtesy of Catalyst.org:
|Mature/World War II Generation||Members of the Mature/WWII Generation (born before 1946) are 67 years or older. Although most members have retired from the labor force, they comprise a wealth of valuable knowledge and experience. Many believe this generation views work as an obligation: they respect authority, take rational approaches, and produce quality work.|
|Baby Boomers||Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1965) are approximately between the ages of 47 and 66. The older members have begun to retire from the labor force. This generation occupies most of the senior-level management roles. They are often stereotyped as extremely focused on work, and they possess a strong work ethic and desire recognition for their efforts.|
|Generation X||Generation X (born between 1966 and 1980) is approximately between the ages of 32 and 46. The oldest members could be entering senior-level management roles while the younger members entering/approaching mid-career and senior-level supervisory roles. Many members of Generation X embrace diversity and entrepreneurship.|
|Generation Y/Millennial||Generation Y or the Millennials (born between 1981 and 2000) are approximately between the ages of 12 and 31. The older members are in the labor force while the younger members are still completing their formal education. This generation is known for being optimistic and goal-oriented: they are known for enjoying collaboration and multitasking, are comfortable embracing emerging technologies, and appreciate meaningful work.|
While these are broad characteristics and don’t apply to all members of a generation, they illustrate the wide range of experience and work preferences at play in companies today.
Consider the following tips for improving the way you and your colleagues work together:
Understand your differences. Different doesn’t mean bad when it comes to work and communication styles. Take some time to learn about each generation’s strengths and preferences, and actively try to remember these whenever you’re feeling frustrated about an interaction. Many misunderstandings and conflicts can be avoided simply by acknowledging where the other person is coming from.
Use generational knowledge to inform how you approach people. Learning about other generations’ expectations and preferred work styles can help bridge gaps in communication and understanding. For example, although you’re likely used to communicating largely through email, your Baby Boomer coworker may prefer to have the same conversations in person or through a short phone call.
Allow their strengths to improve your weaknesses – and vice versa. Your older coworkers likely have a deep industry experience and awareness of your company culture. Seek their advice often as you navigate both your workplace and career. And the learning goes both ways. For example, if you hear an older coworker express that he is having trouble staying organized with the traditional paper-and-file-folder method, offer to show him some tips and easy-to-use online tools that help you in your own work.
Let your supervisor know how you like to receive feedback. Many members of the Millennial generation like to receive ongoing feedback about their work, while other generations are content with the standard annual and mid-year reviews. Talk to your boss about your preferred way to receive feedback and suggest steps — like a weekly 30-minute check-in meeting — that open up the possibility for those conversations.
For more information on how generations can better work together, check out the following resources:
- The Boomer-Millennial Workplace Clash: Is it Real? (Forbes)
- Closing the Generation Gap (Good People Good Business)
- How to Manage Different Generations (Wall Street Journal)