It is a remarkable time that we are living in. Literally, generations of people, who have grown up in drastically different times, are working together.
The Traditionalists born in the early 1940s and before, the Baby Boomers of 1946-1964, the Generation X of 1965-1983 and the infamous Millennial generation of 1984-2002, which is entering the workforce and supposedly changing the ways an office has been functioning for long.
Now, these “boxes” are certainly debatable. Do we need such a compartmentalisation? Does such a categorization mean the same in the Indian context? Should people born after 1995 be included in the Millennial category or be termed as Generation Z? What about the differences of life experiences within a generation?
Whatever said and done, there are different generations working together. Or at least, they are trying to.
How do we make the best of such a unique phenomenon?
- No Negativity Please!
It is important to not resort to negative stereotypes.
The Harvard Business Review found that every generation wants meaningful work, that they like to work to the contentment of their intrinsic motivation. The wider definition of what is meaningful is similar at the core.
It is more a question of perception, i.e. negative stereotyping, which gives rise to conflict. Interactions-with prejudices, biases based on a few experiences and what one has heard others say-as their basis could be detrimental to communication and actual appraisal of the person. This leads us to the next point.
- Awareness Vs. Assumption:
Every generation is “known” for certain standout qualities, and encouraging the good ones is important. But it’s a bad idea to generalise and label someone just because they belong to that generation. Potentials may remain under-utilised this way.
There are young people who are not techno savvy. There are people in their seventies who have a firmer grasp of how social media works. It is a tight-rope balancing act between being aware and assuming.
- Everyone Matters:
This point can come handy to those in managerial positions.
Many modern workplaces are making it a point to please the Millennial generation, for example, by making the work-hours flexible, making majority processes online, ditching the dress-codes, making structural changes in the workplace etc.
While it is not a bad thing to keep up with times, it is not a great idea to be completely insensitive to the needs of other generations, or even to the differences within a generation for that matter.
It is thus important to do a basic thing before implementing structural and administrative changes in the workplace: ask everyone.
Imagine someone who is more comfortable working “offline” in a nine-to-five time-slot, finding the office locked at those times because things are being done online. This not only takes us back to the previous point of assuming, but it also tells us about how blanket rules could hamper productivity.
We don’t want a workplace which pleases someone in their twenties but makes someone in their fifties uncomfortable. Or vice versa.
- Complement and Compliment
Rather than focusing on the differences to a chaotic end, it is a good idea to work as complements. And it is equally important to appreciate the skills which the “other” generation has, especially if one lacks it.
For example, the Millennial might learn from someone of Generation X some tips about composing a formal email/letter, how to approach a client on call or face to face. The Generation X person can learn about some shortcuts about copying and pasting text from one document to another, thus increasing speed and efficiency.
And everyone could learn from the Traditionalists and the Baby Boomers the art of remembering hundreds of phone numbers by heart! Or the art of maintaining long term client-relations.
This is learning-from-everyone approach is also known as reverse mentoring, and technology is just one aspect from a whole lot of areas to learn. Communicating, networking, conducting meetings, how assignments are handled etc., are done differently by different generations, and learning from everyone can give valuable insights.
Sharing and valuing of experience is important.
A multi-generational team where everyone gets a task which caters to their strengths is definitely unbeatable.
While it is necessary to step out of one’s comfort zone, it is also important to cash in on the strong points of each individual. Open communication which guarantees an inflow of a variety of ideas, and then defining a common goal, with everyone doing what they are good at can go a long way in a successful completion of tasks, overall productivity and workplace harmony.