Raise your hand if you’ve heard the “OK Boomer” catchphrase.
Generally, it’s used by younger folks to mock the stereotypical attitudes attributed to the Baby Boomer generation.
To be fair, though, the younger people out there have endured plenty of their bosses and coworkers rolling their eyes at the mention of millennials or, even worse (in their eyes) those young whippersnappers of Gen Z.
All in all, the generational gap has become a little more fraught over the past few years. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Each generation has unique traits and strengths they can share to make their workplace better and more collaborative.
The Value Millennials and Gen Z Bring to a Multi-Generational Workplace
Millennials and Gen Z-ers are full of energy, driven and ready to work hard for a company that aligns with their values. They also bring some valuable areas of expertise to the table, areas of which Boomers should take notice.
The millennial and Gen Z generations have both grown up as digital natives. Gen Z, in particular, probably can’t remember a time when mobile phones and personal computers weren’t a part of daily life. As such, they’re more apt to be tech-savvy and familiar with different platforms and technologies.
Because of their familiarity with technology and their lifelong awareness of its capabilities, the younger generations aren’t satisfied with “that’s how we’ve always done it” as a reason for status quo. If you’re looking to improve a process or launch a new product, having the viewpoint of a millennial or a Gen Z-er can give you fresh insight that can improve your end product.
Another one of the Boomers’ epithets for millennials has been “the self-esteem generation.” These millennial and Gen Z workers have been accustomed to receiving feedback their entire lives, and the workplace is no exception.
To win over their younger team members and colleagues, Boomers can focus on giving feedback frequently, rather than waiting for a quarterly or annual review/critique. This approach actually makes sense from a company-wide perspective; after all, who wants to wait five or six months to hear that you have an easily fixable problem or habit that might be holding you back from advancement?
And, as a side note, Boomers may also need to spend some time thinking about how to receive feedback from millennials who are now in management positions. Remember, while we think of millennials as “young,” the oldest ones are now in their late 30s and are often running departments and companies on their own!
The Value Boomers Bring to a Multi-Generational Workplace
For the most part, Boomers are still running the world from a corporate leadership perspective; in fact, the average Fortune 500 CEO is 58 years old. With this in mind, wise millennials and Gen Z-ers should assume that Boomers can teach them something about how to succeed in the workplace.
Navigating office politics
“No filter” is a great way to Instagram, but not necessarily a great way to conduct yourself in the office. Boomers can teach their millennial and Gen Z employees how to manage relationships and create influence even if they haven’t yet reached a position of authority within the company.
While younger generations may push back against the status quo, the Boomers in the workplace may know that there’s a reason why things are set up the way they are – that there’s a technology hurdle or a regulation or a customer preference that requires a process to stay the same. The Boomers in the office can often provide a wealth of knowledge and insight that can guide and inform their younger colleagues’ decision making.
The value of Boomers’ mentoring capabilities cannot be understated in the workplace. Millennials and Gen Z-ers are hungry for mentorship, guidance and feedback.
Having Boomers who are willing to walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to being in leadership roles; by doing this, they can help to lift up the succeeding generations and make the company stronger as a whole.
How To Communicate Across the Generational Gap
For the foreseeable future, there will probably be a lot of intergenerational teams in your workplace and there’s no point in continuing to nurture antipathy on either side.
The best place to start thoughtfully improving multigenerational communications is focusing on the type of culture you’re creating in the workplace. An office culture that respects input from all generations – Boomers, Gen X (see, we didn’t forget about you guys!), millennials and Gen Z-ers – should be:
Open to influence from all levels.
Leaders in an organization don’t have to be the ones doing all the talking. The best, most collaborative, most innovative teams recognize that everyone brings a unique perspective to the table and should put that perspective to work.
While different generations and different individuals may not agree on problem-solving approaches, it’s important to keep teams respectful and focused on end results. It’s easy to disagree or get frustrated over opinion; having teams back up their opinions with facts about how they’ll serve the company’s end goals will keep everyone on track.
Using shared language.
“OK Boomer” is not going to work in the workplace, but a shared team language for conflict management and resolution can. This approach requires a commitment by leadership to bring teams together
It’s hard to show ageism or disrespect to a person whom you like and appreciate at a personal level. Encourage teams to create relationships and build networks of collaborative partnerships. With these systems in place, you’ll find that colleagues are more likely to give each other some slack rather than assume the worst about one another’s – or an entire generation’s – intentions.
Let’s work on building those foundations for effective communication. If you focus on creating a culture of leadership and partnership, your Boomers can bring their knowledge, and your millennials and Gen Z-ers can bring their enthusiasm, and you can create something great.