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Tips for Bridging the Generation Gap in the Workplace

Corporations nowadays, regardless of industry, remit or location, all share one similarity – they all include diverse teams of different age groups in the workplace. So how can team members find workplace satisfaction in a space where generations collide?
“For the first time in modern history, our workforce consists of four different generations working side by side,” says Intergenerational Leadership Coach Fyiona Yong. “And the differences among them are one of the greatest challenges we face today.” Having spent 14 years in corporate settings, many of those managing teams of all levels of experience and ages, Yong now provides professional coaching with a focus on multi-generational, inclusive workplaces. She shares with us a few tips on how to bridge the generational gap in a team – from both sides.

When working on projects…

Younger colleagues: A new project or task may be daunting, but the next time there’s a new initiative, raise your hand and volunteer to take the lead. Contributing to “reverse mentoring” can help everyone see you stepping up to take on more responsibility, and at the same time, introduce different perspectives and ways of thinking and working in a happy workplace.

Mature colleagues: Teaming up with colleagues of different ages may be alarming. But this time, try to define team members as individuals with different talents. Encourage others to be paired up by strengths, and deviate from the default “group by age” partnerships so that everyone can appreciate all tasks.

Team takeaway: “It’s all about sharing perspectives and appreciate everyone’s efforts,” says Yong. Sure, everyone has weaknesses, but playing to each generation’s strengths can validate each individual’s value to the team, which will ultimately enhance the quality of work produced overall.

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When challenged by stereotypes…

Younger colleagues: Think there’s only one way around something you’re skilled at? There may be several. Don’t anticipate actions simply based on what you assume of your older colleagues. The key is to practise empathy, remain open-minded, and remember that there is no right or wrong way when it comes to fulfilling a task, only the method that works best for each individual. Who knows, it might also be a technique you’d want to adopt in the future.

Mature colleagues:
When a new project requires you to stretch the limits of your knowledge, don’t immediately feel threatened by the common assumptions of different generations. Instead, maintain a growth mindset and pick up new skills, contribute with your own innovative ideas. Don’t allow generational stereotypes to become detrimental to your own progress.

Team takeaway: “A ‘generation’ can be influenced by the individuals’ life phase, other life events, and tenure in the organisation, not just age,” Yong shares. Be aware of how your unconscious biases can lead to ineffective collaboration. Instead, observe how different approaches may lead to a more well-rounded tactic to completing a task.

When there’s a disconnection between team members…

Younger colleagues: The right amount of fun is crucial to strengthening your relationship with colleagues which ultimately leads to workplace happiness. So, why not suggest having team activities, with everyone taking turns to plan an experience to enjoy together? From virtual happy hour to candle and fragrance making, everyone will have a chance to share their interests with the team.

Mature colleagues:
Communication at work isn’t only about professional relationships, but personal ones, too. So, try small gestures such as saying hello when you come into the office or sharing stories of your weekend to establish rapport and genuine interpersonal relationships at work. When you feel safe with each other, age or other differences are not prioritised, but rather embraced.

Team takeaway: “The goal is to foster a collaborative, not competitive, environment in which everyone can thrive,” says Yong. Each person has a different narrative on life, but having shared experiences will build trust and encourage the team to welcome the diversity of interests and thoughts, creating a safe and happy workplace for all.

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