Five Ways Leaders Bridge the Generational Divide

We’re in the middle of a historic evolutionary leap driven by digital innovation and software technology.  And it’s created a generational divide that holds both promise and peril for leaders, managers and HR departments. This is a large fail for those of us in the trenches fighting this ongoing employee engagement crisis.

If you’ve ever watched a teenager (or younger!) on her laptop, mobile, or even iPhone, you know what I mean. She’s texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, taking a selfie, doing her homework and watching Katy Perry’s new video on her iPhone — all at the same time. Without breaking a sweat. Her brain synapses are firing in whole new ways. It’s some crazy combination of scary, exhilarating, baffling, and fascinating. These emerging generations are living a world that didn’t exist a decade ago – a global digital nervous system that operates in real time. And it’s the only world they’ve ever known.

For Gen Xers (large portion are leaders) and Boomers (many leaders here too), this new world can be (especially at first) daunting territory. It can be intimidating and overwhelming.

What it can’t be is ignored.

Those of us in HR and Leadership roles have seen too many walls go up between the different generations. There’s mistrust and unease all around. The Millennials consider the Boomers a bunch of old fogeys. The Xers feel caught between. Boomers can be condescending and closed-minded. And who suffers most because of this generational dysfunction? The organization! Performance and profits. For leaders the challenge is clear: get everyone on the same page/screen.

Here Are Five Ways To Break Down The Generational Walls In Your Workplace Culture:

1) Foster Communication. Get people together, informally, to talk about the new digital reality and what it means to the individual. Xers especially can feel inadequate about their lack of social-media skills. The more dialogue the better. And it’s good for (sometimes smug and hipper-than-thou) Millennials to be exposed to other generations. Just because someone isn’t a computer whiz doesn’t mean they’re not an amazing talent.

2) Demystify. The sheer volume and variety in the digital world can be overwhelming. Offer classes and training to Xers and Boomers. Pair them up with Millennial mentors. Many people are shy about admitting their lack of digital skills; once they’re taught the basics, they find they love it. The goal here is build a basic comfort level across the organization.

3) Be Flexible With Digital-Skill Levels. Some very talented people have no interest in spending endless hours on the computer. Sing their praises! Yes, they need the basic skills to connect them to the organizational nervous system and optimize their performance, but beyond that they can be Luddites. It’s SO important for HR and Leaders to understand that every talented person is different. There’s massive societal pressure these days to conform, to be plugged in online all the time. A lot of amazing people would rather spend their free time on other pursuits.

4) Create A Baseline. This is a site that unites. Something user-friendly that everyone can be a part of. This provides a foundation across the organization; it engages and inspires people. It literally puts everyone on the same page.

5) Be True To Your Culture. As with all business lessons, one size fits no one. You want to tailor your generational bridge-building to suit the specific needs of your enterprise. For some companies, the need is more urgent than others. Take an inventory of where things stand and develop your plan accordingly.

The future is here. Techno and digital tools rule. The rules in the World of Work are changing big time. All true. But optimal results depend of getting everyone comfortable, communicating, and working from the same baseline. Because the possibilities and opportunities are so vast in this new reality, the challenge is an exciting one.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes

Photo Credit: TrogonSoft-TeamWise via Compfight cc

Millennial’s Commentary On the Generational Gap: How We Really See You

Thousands, maybe even millions of research articles flood the web on how Xers and Boomers are trying to understand what millennials really want in the workplace. After all, this is the generation taking over our organizations. With all of this information at your fingertips on how you can engage this sector of the workforce, there seems be too little to no rhetoric spelling out how Millennials view our Xer and Boomer colleagues. This brings me to question, how can you expect engagement initiatives to be successful when you have no idea how we view you?

We think Gen X is cynical

Generation X (1965-79) is one of the most skeptical generations to date, having grown up in an era when many of the institutions built by veterans (1922-1946) and improved upon by boomers (1946-1964) were torn to pieces. We agree it can be discouraging watching companies like Enron and WorldCom crumble and being fed lies about faulty products, but understand that your cynicism stifles the innovation that we are longing for. A check and balance system in the workplace is good but when very idea that spews out of our millennial mouth’s is met with your skepticism, we naturally do want to run home at 5:00 and apply for any other position on Monster.

All you see is the corner office

The Greatest Generation raised Boomers to ensure they would never miss out on their youth the way they did. A noble cause. What parent would not want to give their child a great life? It became all about what they could do for themselves and their families. “Don’t let anything stand in the way of what you want,” Boomers taught their Xer children. This has created a stigma, whether just or not, that Xer are willing to do whatever it takes to get to get ahead. They put their head down, work 60 hours a week and finally land their prize – the corner office. The problem with that for millennials is many Xers do not seem to be inviting us to their marathon to success, quite the opposite. We view your hands-off, because I said so and never take a sick day approach to leading as nothing more than an oppressing attempt to keep us in our entry to mid-level roles. Our goal is not the corner office, but the entire company with a budget for Corporate Social Responsibility.

Them is we

Boomers and Xers, more so than others, tend to use the generation labels much more than millennials or Zs (1995-2012). Yes, I know that seems like an oxymoron considering you are reading an article about generation labels right now but please humor me. No matter who you are you do not like to be pigeon-holed into categories. The rise of individualism is not new nor did it start with our generation. It is simply better documented due to more sophisticated technology. Only a third of millennials say they are millennials. While we will always have categories in place to better organize everyone, Xers and Boomers could relate to us more if they simply stopped using the “young and dumb” approach. I know Xers have spent years trying to live up to the Boomer’s expectations only to have them creep back in to the workforce (Thank you Great Recession) but putting all the ideas you deem naïve in a box and labeling it millennial will never build successful organizations. We are all in this together.

You are on our pedestal

This has and will continue to be one of my biggest flaws. I put my mentors and leaders on a pedestal. I am chomping at the bit to conquer the world and all I need is someone in my corner cheering me on and calling me out when I need it. When my cheerleader cannot find the pom-poms or stifles my innovative idea with negativity, I am heartbroken, confused and angry. I take it personally to the point I almost cannot learn from them any longer. I do make sure I do whatever it takes to prove them wrong though. Maybe they use it as a form of motivation? Millennials as a whole inspire to be incredible people that will make the world better. You do not need to be Steve Jobs or Mohmmas Yunus but you do need to try and get on-board with that.

No matter where you stand in the conversation around generations in the workplace, one thing is certain, we are not going away. 53.5 million millennials are expected to be in the workforce by the end of this year. While I understand some of the stereotypes around our endless texting and job hopping and proven true in some cases, overall, many of us simply want someone to lead us.

Photo Credit: sagitmalka52 via Compfight cc