Keeping Things Copacetic in an Intergenerational Office
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
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Posted on: 04/09/2012



 

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, who were born 1946 to 1964 and are approaching retirement, and Millennials, those aged between 18 and 30 and are just entering the workforce. Each age group is distinct. When 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 forced more people to continue to work instead of retiring. The workplace is staffed by intergenerational employees, and confronted with problems caused by the age differences between groups. Some of the common challenges include the following.

Older Workers Treat Millennials 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 Millennials waste company resources by socializing, and spend too much time on social-networking sites and e-mails, and keep a tight rein on how Millennials use their work time. Millennials feel like they’re treated more like the Baby Boomers’ grandchildren than coworkers.

Younger staff members need to understand Baby Boomers are often heavily invested in their work. They’re efficient, 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 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 one another’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 to keep the younger generation motivated.

Lack of Workplace Etiquette in Younger Employees

A common complaint from older employees is 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 e-mails
  • Texting during meetings
  • Inappropriate dress

Baby Boomers must realize these actions may not be an intentional lack of disrespect, but a hallmark of the generation. Millennials are a multi-tasking group that communicate primarily by social media, and texting is sometimes work-related. Unlike their older counterparts, 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 doesn’t 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.

Lack of Respect for Young Management From Older Employees

When an older worker moves to a company with younger management, he 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 they want their employees to follow.

Often, giving respect earns respect. It’s 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 respect will come with time and results. When Baby Boomers see younger managers are effective, respect follows.

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, which 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 the office rules. Older employees should seek out guidelines concerning expectations for the job in a younger office setting. Baby Boomers must let go of preconceived models of what’s right and wrong and 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 the work team, while staying true to who they are.

What Businesses Can Do

Businesses can facilitate the cooperation of 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 methods can help ease the confrontations 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 Joseph is a personal and family 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. For more information, visit www.unityinherited.com.