Generational Diversity in the Workplace: Some Answers. In this episode of Your Workplace Horizon, we discuss generational diversity and communication within the workplace with Savanah Natividad and Sheri Stringer.
“That old geezer doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” Or “Snot nose little punks, can’t put their phones down for a second!” Maybe you have heard similar comments, or perhaps you yourself have stated something along those lines. But where does it come from? At present, there may be as many as 4 to 5 different generations that make up your workforce, and each of these generations have been shaped by their respective experiences. What we experience in High School, which are our formative years, shapes our future perspectives and beliefs. Social and political climates are ever-changing, and thus, we encounter differing versions during our formative years. Neither is better nor worse off; they’re just different. But how do we bridge the gap?
One of my best friends is 25 years my senior. Seems unusual on the surface as many may wonder what we could possibly have in common. However, age transcends differences when one is open, asks questions, and finds some common ground. Our friendship began over one commonality, our children. Our kids are the same age, and they began seeking each other out and playing together when they were nine months old. Each time our kids were together, they gravitated to one another. This evolved into small talk among parents, which then blossomed into a longstanding friendship. The years passed, and my friend and I began training and running half marathons together, still another commonality. I witnessed firsthand that age means nothing, as he often kicked my butt on those long runs. Because we were both willing to drop our guard and truly find out what makes the other tick, we became friends. Which one of your team members shares a common interest with you? How successful could you and your organization be if you took the time to get to know your co-workers truly?
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, a northern suburb of Los Angeles, I tend to say “like,” “dude,” and “Homie” a lot. It’s a product of my surroundings growing up and has been interwoven into who I am. I recognize, however, these phrases have a time and place at work and, depending on my audience, may be effective or detrimental to those. Communication among different generations is no different. Older co-workers may prefer to communicate in person, by phone, or through email. Conversely, younger generations may prefer to communicate through instant messaging (IM) or other social media outlets. Neither is better nor worse than the other; they’re just different. What IS important is to recognize that they are different and to be open to communicating through mediums which you may not be comfortable utilizing, with the goal of improving organizational communication among your co-workers. Kick down the barriers to communication, and don’t be afraid to ask, “How do you prefer to communicate?”.
I love to bake, mainly because I love to eat sweets, especially fruit pies and brownies. Imagine for a moment if every fruit pie or brownie were exactly the same that would suck! Think of your work environment as a recipe, different spices, cooking methods, quality of ingredients, et cetera, all contributing to a different flavor that either explodes in your mouth or fizzles out, leaving you wanting something different. Now, imagine if all your co-workers thought and acted the same. Where would innovation come from? How would your product or service differentiate you from your competitors? How boring would life be if we didn’t have variety? YOU are the difference at work because YOU have the opportunity to open up to others and share your thoughts, find out what drives your co-workers, find out how they like to communicate and figure out how you can succeed together. Everybody has something to learn, and everybody has something to teach. If you’re not learning, and you’re not teaching, what ARE you doing?
We all have choices. You can assume co-workers are a certain way based on preconceived notions, or you can get to know them, find out who they really are and how you can work together. Don’t be afraid to ask someone different from you for help, as they may value the opportunity. In turn, take the time to help others when they are in need. Generational gaps can be bridged utilizing these techniques; one just has to be open and willing to do so. Be the change; don’t wait for it!