Working Across Generations: Gen-X and Millennials

In today’s business organizations, a boss acts like an orchestra conductor. This analogy is apt because, just like a conductor who sets the tempo and ensures each musician enters at the right time, a boss must know when and how to harness the diverse talents and skills of their employees for the collective benefit of the organization.

While a significant part of the responsibility also lies on individual employees to integrate well with their colleagues, these efforts often don’t compare to how effectively a boss can manage differences among the workforce.

One such difference is the generation gap — here’s an earlier post I wrote on the various ways Generation X and Millennials behave in the workplace. Now, let’s explore how to turn this dynamic to your advantage.

Steer Away from Stereotypes

Generalizing the members of a group for the sake of understanding is fine, but when these generalizations become ingrained, stereotypes form. The idea that Generation X dislikes technology and avoids using it while Millennials are gadget enthusiasts are examples of common stereotypes about these two generations, and neither is entirely accurate.

In my view, a boss must first overcome any preconceived notions about these generational groups to become a better manager. Instead of assigning certain traits to an entire generation, try to get to know each person individually.

generational stereotypesgenerational stereotypes

Once you clear your own mind of prejudices and stereotypes, it becomes easier to promote the concept of generational neutrality to your staff. The boss’s role here is to encourage collaborative diversity and steer employees away from tags and labels.

Assign Mutually Interesting Tasks

There’s a famous saying: “You only truly know someone once you live with them or work with them.”

While expecting your employees to do the former is neither practical nor appropriate, you can make them work together.

Instead of sending dry office memos and emails urging collaboration, a better approach is to assign tasks that interest both generations.

different generations working togetherdifferent generations working together

For instance, for a project that involves desk research and fieldwork, you can form a team of Xers and Millennials. This isn’t about stereotyping, but rather recognizing that Generation X might prefer research tasks, while Millennials might enjoy fieldwork and some fresh air.

Create Learning Opportunities

An essential aspect of intergenerational harmony in the workplace is to create opportunities for employees to learn from each other.

From my personal experience, when someone teaches me something, it naturally fosters a sense of respect for that person. This can also create a feeling of indebtedness, often leading to a desire to reciprocate the favor.

In this way, cross-generational mentoring can open numerous doors of collaboration for these two generations.

gen-x gen-y teamgen-x gen-y team

For tasks involving the latest technology, you can suggest a Generation X employee seek help from a tech-savvy Generation Y colleague. Similarly, for a project assigned to a Millennial that requires basic institutional knowledge, propose asking for assistance from an experienced Generation X employee.

Customized Management Style

As I mentioned in a previous article, Generations X and Y grew up experiencing significantly different events that have shaped their professional values and perception of work.

Since their values differ and their professional DNAs don’t match, why should the management style used on them be the same?

For a more productive workforce, a boss should tailor their management style to each group’s values and characteristics, and to further narrow it down, to each individual employee.

For instance, Xers and Millennials prefer to communicate differently, so offering a variety of communication tools, from face-to-face meetings to emails, telephones, and even instant messaging, can be beneficial. In terms of working style, you can even allow employees to choose the method that suits them, provided it doesn’t affect their productivity.

Set a Personal Example

In addition to using personalized management styles, as the employer, you need to set a personal example. This is crucial because your behavior and conduct around the workplace are reflected in your employees.

If you want your employees to be free from prejudice and work smoothly together, you must first overcome your own biases.

multi-generational employeesmulti-generational employees

In a place where people of different ages, qualifications, and backgrounds work together, conflicts can arise. Be aware of these conflicts, but don’t take them on by yourself. The market is a jungle where only the strongest survive, and your team can only be as strong as you are.

Wrapping it Up

Diversity in the workplace means you have a full deck of cards to play with in the business game. However, it also often means complexity and friction among employees.

In the workplace, the saying “age is just a number” holds true, as it’s not about age differences but differences in the core values of each generation.

You will find people with poor work ethics in every generation, just as you’ll find both young and old employees who are outstanding workers.

As the boss and leader of the organization, successful collaboration between Gen-X and Millennials is in your hands. Every employee brings something to the table, even Gen-Z, who are entering the market soon, if not already.

However, it is your task to make use of these talents the right way and to motivate your employees to build functional workplace relationships for the collective success of the organization.

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