10 Tips For Handling Generational Gap Conflicts In The Office

Old vs YoungAnd here you thought your generation-gap conflicts were over when you moved out of your parents’ house and could stop explaining the greatness of Def Leppard. Then you started a business and found yourself hiring people you’re pretty sure had guest spots on The Golden Girls when you were a kid. And now you’re back to arguing about why a text message is a perfectly acceptable form of business communication.

A survey by Harris Interactive on behalf of CareerBuilder.com finds that 69% of workers 55 and older report to younger bosses. So how do you handle giving orders to people the age of those you’re used to taking orders from? And who’ve probably been “the boss" before? Here’s 10 tips on how to handle the conflict.

    • Recognize their experience and expertise.

A major benefit of having employees with experience is, well, that they have experience. So ask for their input frequently. Even though you may not think they’d have encountered similar situations during their careers – especially in tech fields – they probably have. And conferring with younger workers won’t produce as diverse a collection of ideas as asking your employees with more combined years of industry experience.

    • Communicate what is expected – on both ends.

Despite your parents’ innate ability to know EXACTLY where you were when you claimed to be “volunteering at the dog shelter,” their generation actually does NOT have ESP. Which means if you have an older employee on your staff, you’ll actually need to sit down and have a detailed conversation about what is expected. And not just what you expect from the employee, but about what they expect from you.

    • Walk them through technology.

Even though older people might start text messages with “Dear Sir” and still aren’t COMPLETELY comfortable downloading their Carole King albums, that doesn’t mean they will be resistant to technology. The time it might take you to teach something a younger employee knows will be more than made up for by the experience an older worker can apply once the technology makes sense.

    • Understand motivations.

While a younger boss might see himself as a Wolf of Wall Street, working as hard as he can to lease a Cayenne, older employees have for the most part done their climbing. So motivating them with things like increased responsibility and more money might not work. A lot of them have already been the boss, and want things like health insurance, a good work/life balance and more time off rather than tangible rewards.

    • Generational training.

Yes. Take the time to sit down with your younger employees and explain to them what the phrase “dialing the phone” means. And let older employees know that, yes, people actually did get married off Myspace. The more generations understand about what the other one goes through – or has been through – the better they’ll understand the others’ motivations and how they get work done.

    • Keep the focus on the team.

While you don’t want to ignore the 65-year-old elephant in the room, harping on getting everyone to get along will bring you dangerously close to being Michael Scott. Yes, you need to set guidelines and talk about expectations with your age-diverse team, but once you’ve done that keep the focus on what you all have in common – getting the job done and achieving goals as a team.

    • Explain things.

When your generation has been through an entire war that wasn’t explained to you, you tend to want to know the reasons why authority asks what they do. Boomers are THE generation of “question authority” so be sure to explain to them why a task needs to be done, how it’s benefitting the organization, and how it will benefit them.

    • Talk to them in person.

While Gen X’ers and younger generations are completely ok with conducting every aspect of social interaction with an iPhone app, older people understand the value of face-to-face communication. So you may well find an older employee coming to actually talk to you rather than emailing. If you have a request, walk over and ask them in person. And if they come to ask you something, brushing them off with a request to “shoot you an email” might be seen as offensive.

    • Keep the hours to the work hours.

Older workers didn’t grow up in a generation where social outings were spent on social media. And, they actually are crazy enough to think it’s rude to answer a work email in the middle of dinner. So while always-connected Gen X’ers and Millennials might expect instant email responses at 9pm on a Saturday, older workers aren’t in the office when they’re not in the office. Give them work to do during the day, and they’ll get it done at work. Probably because they also aren’t perpetually on Facebook or online shopping.

    • Remember range of ages.

Would you treat a 33-year-old employee the same as a 13-year-old child? Hopefully not or you’d be giving LeBron James and Tyler Lawton posters as bonuses. Similarly, remember just because a worker is older than you don’t lump him into that big category of “old people.” 70 is motivated very differently than 55, so treat older employees differently based on what motivates them, not the category you put them in.

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