Do you remember your first day of work? Chances are, you started out as a junior; both in terms of your job title and your age. So, you will probably have experience of working with managers and colleagues who were a generation, or two, older than you.
Today, as more young, tech-savvy workers become managers, and the number of people working past retirement age continues to climb, large age gaps are becoming increasingly common in all sorts of businesses and organizations.
Managing an age-diverse team, particularly if you are younger than some of the people in your team, is no mean feat. So how do you successfully bridge the generation gap at work?
Age Doesn’t Equal Seniority
The first step is to accept that age no longer equates to seniority. It wasn’t so long ago that age and length of service were key factors in workplace promotion.
Today, the traditional career ladder is less important as the younger generation of workers places more emphasis on issues such as work-life balance and job satisfaction. These are considered more important than job titles. As such, positions of authority are no longer a given as you get older. And knowledge of tech, social media, and “soft skills” have become base requirements for many senior roles.
As a result, we are now seeing more millennials taking up the management reins. It can be easy in these instances for ego and stereotypes to get in the way of a healthy work dynamic between a manager and their team. So, we wanted to hear your advice on how to successfully bridge the age divide at work.
Your Top Tips on How to Bridge the Generation Gap
It’s Not a Competition
It’s not uncommon for older team members to feel threatened when younger colleagues are promoted above them. So be prepared for potentially hostile or competitive behavior to rear its ugly head, at least initially, and have a plan for dealing with it.
Some managers choose to address the topic at the very start of the process, to clear the air and to address any feelings of resentment or jealousy. This can be a great way to demonstrate an open and honest leadership style and invite helpful feedback.
But if you’re a young manager and you don’t feel comfortable revealing your age, don’t worry. Your age is your business. The trouble is that your appearance (perhaps a youthful lack of wrinkles!) can be a giveaway. Even if you don’t intend to address the issue, be prepared for the question, “How old actually are you?”
If a generation gap, or an age- or experience-related issue, is getting in the way of your ability to manage your team, try to see things from the other person’s point of view. As Facebook user Tammy Touhey put it, “Understand that they are not you. After that, everything will begin to make sense.”
We all have our own unique perspectives that enable us to do our jobs well. But, it can help to set aside your own experiences and beliefs in order to better understand your team as a whole. Actively listen to them, find out what they want to achieve, discuss ways that you can help them, and address their criticisms.
Twitter follower James Thompson says, “Be prepared to take a step further back than you might ordinarily, and listen properly, ears wide open.”
Develop Mutual Respect
HR professional and Twitter user Wendy believes that age gaps should be approached “with respect.”
Regardless of your preconceptions about “snowflake” millennials or conservative “boomers,” be respectful of the experience and skills that everyone brings to the table. Don’t let your preconceived notions of other generations mislead you.
For example, millennials have faced the unfair stereotype that they are lazy, oversensitive and privileged. But Facebook friend Tamara Galhuber says that we shouldn’t let stereotypes inform our management styles. She says we should build respect within teams by “asking questions more often than making assumptions regarding their motivation.”
Learn From Each Generation
James Thompson asserts that older managers shouldn’t “be the wise old owl too often.” Just because you have more experience or expertise doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be open to learning from your team.
Instead, accept that we all have unique skills, and we can all learn from one another. Facebook user Kay Wheatley says, “Each generation brings something different to the workplace. There is more than one way to do something and age diversity or the generation gap is the best one of all to demonstrate that.”
Age divides can be tricky to navigate. It’s easy to let resentment, lack of trust or stereotypes get in the way. But generation gaps can also be a great asset to your team. Take advantage of the wealth of skills and experience within your multi-generational team. Then, watch your organization thrive as a result.
Do you have any tips on managing across an age gap? If so, get involved and share your thoughts in the comments section, below.