Bridging the Generation Gap with Employees

No matter what the business, today you see wide generation gaps within employee groups. This exists, in large part, more today than ever before for the following reasons:

�· People are living longer and staying employed longer.

�· People routinely retire from one career and start a new one.

�· Businesses have been faced with a shrinking skilled labor pool that continues to be fed with large numbers of entry-level only skill individuals.

A company may have individuals in their 50’s or 60’s working along side individuals in their teens or early 20’s. The younger tend to see the older in relation to their parents or grandparents and the older tend to see the younger as their children or grandchildren. Many times these perceptions carry with them a significant amount of emotional baggage that can bleed into the work relationship. If that wasn’t enough, you have significant culture clashes and work ethic disparities. The optimistic Baby Boomers are working alongside skeptical Gen Xers. Woodstock vs. Beavis and Butthead! Save the world vs. save myself.

Any existing dynamics are destined to change as the Millennials enter the workforce, but because the Millennials were raised by the Baby Boomers, there may still be a clash with the Gen Xers. Are these clashes new? No. However, the workforce has never spread across so many generations before, so it is a bigger challenge to manage. The key is to find some common ground on which to build working relationships and keep the focus on getting the work done, not on judging or measuring each other.

In order to bridge the gap and increase cooperation and understanding between employees, it is essential to first raise awareness to the fact that the gap exists, but that it is not so wide it cannot be bridged. It is also essential that you promote the idea that employees are a team and everyone brings something of value to the table. The team leader (the employer) must set the tone and walk the talk, if this new perspective is to take root. This cannot be a “flavor of the month” management initiative. If you start it, you better finish it or you could end up with increased tensions and a gap between employees and management.

Here is a suggestion for a step toward bridging the gap called Baby Picture Bulletin Board.

Directions For Activity: Ask each employee to bring in a baby picture and write down what they want/wanted to be “when they grow/grew up.” Instruct the employees not to tell anyone which picture or statement is theirs. Make copies or scans of all the pictures and give each picture and statement a number. Post the pictures and statements, along with their corresponding number, on a bulletin board and give each employee a guess sheet. Give everyone about a week to put their best guess to the pictures and statements. (It would be helpful to give employees and extra five minutes for lunch or break so they have time to look at the board.) Collect their guess sheets and post the real names to the pictures. Tip: It helps to offer a small set of prizes such as “got the most right” and “stumped the most guessers.” Award prizes and return guess sheets, so people can review their guesses against real names (make this an event, a celebration).

Directions For Guess Sheet: Space for guesser’s name, column for number, column for guess, column for solution (correct name to number) to be filled in later.

What does this get you? This activity will create conversation (which is an essential part of people getting to know each other), create a sense of comradery (we all have something in common) and let people understand that they aren’t so different from each other. They can stop thinking of each other as a parent or child and see each other as coworkers-real people.

If you give it some thought, you can find more ways to help employees find common ground. Just be sure that whatever you do does not overly emphasize one age group over another. The idea is to narrow the gap, not widen it.

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