Generation Gaps in Workspace: Threat or an Opportunity?
By Subhashini K
Anyone active on social media would’ve come across the video of Sir Ratan Tata that went viral. In it, he was seen celebrating his birthday by cutting a cake, with his manager Shantanu Naidu by his side. Ratan Tata, aged 84 and Shantanu Naidu, aged 28, have not only an age gap of more than five decades, but also share a very good friendship. Their mutual love for dogs brought them together, and they have grown closer ever since. In spite of belonging to different generations, they work and brainstorm together and seem to get along very well – something that people applaud.
As the saying goes, ‘Age is just a number’. People from all generations find themselves interacting with each other both as a part of society and in the workplace. The five major generations who form part of the workforce now are: Generation Z (born between 1997–2012), Millennials (1981–1996), Generation Xers (1965–1980), Baby boomers (1946–1964) and Silent generation (1928 and 1945). Each group has their own perceptions and understanding of the world. One generation’s idea of an ‘ideal workspace’ may not be accepted by the other. But these indifferent opinions need not always be a threat to the work environment as long as necessary steps are taken to smoothly bridge the gap between employees.
People belonging to Generation Z and Millennials are more familiar with technology and prefer communicating over texts, emails and instant messages over physical meetings. The other three groups, though do not reject the use of technology completely, still prefer face-to-face interaction over virtual meetings. While the latter have hardcore values and are extremely hardworking, employees from Gen Z are more flexible and are sensitive towards issues revolving around us in the present, like rights for the LBGTQ+ community or respecting people’s pronouns – which may be an alien concept for Boomers.
When it comes to working style, younger generations tend to be more unconventional and dynamic, and are more flexible in their approach. The previous generation employees may prefer sticking to deadlines and being rigid in the way work is carried out. When both of them have to work together, there needs to be a common and mutually agreed approach as to how to satisfy the needs of both groups.
Management policies, if drafted in an inclusive way, can go a long way in achieving this. Initiatives like mentorship programmes, buddy groups, informal dinners, etc. can be arranged so that the employees feel at ease in their working environment. A blend of methods – including tech-driven and traditional methods – can be adopted for communication channels so that no one feels overburdened or uncomfortable. Senior managers mentoring juniors would not just be a good bonding experience, but it shall also help them to learn in the process. Such initiatives are proven to create a cohesive workspace for all employees, especially those who are newly recruited. Seniors can initiate informal discussions to share their experiences with others, and juniors too can be encouraged to directly reach out to others in case they require any assistance.
Many Gen-Z employees frown upon the traditional hierarchical structure that is present in many companies – where the age of the employees and chances of promotion are almost directly related. They believe that experience is something that comes out of learning and exposure, and not necessarily with the number of years worked. To avoid such dissatisfaction, performance appraisals can be done regularly to provide feedback and to suggest changes for improving performance. Additionally, younger employees too should be given a chance to lead a team or to volunteer for any project of their interest. Rigid allocation of work may sometimes feel monotonous and cause frustration. Millennials and Gen-Z people actively seek out opportunities to lead and to learn. If provided with the same, and entrusted with responsibilities, they feel confident and are able to contribute to the organization better.
The older generations, who although disagree with the youngsters on many issues, can undoubtedly be a valuable source of inspiration. Particularly during the pandemic, they’ve adopted flexible working hours, mandatorily adopted technology and learnt to embrace virtual meetings. And this is something that has brought the generations even more closer – as the technological gap is bridged to a large extent. Making them aware about sensitive issues like mental health, anxiety and depression – which are some things all millenials are advocating for – is of utmost importance. This shall assist the elder generations in understanding the demands of their younger peers.
The aspect of bridging inter-generational gaps may seem like a mammoth task indeed. But with good management practices, the gap can smoothly be bridged and shall fuel organizational growth. Facilitating smooth communication between employees, fostering a sense of belongingness and ultimately creating a place where everyone can work in a cohesive and synchronised manner can definitely be a game-changer.
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