The Truth About Boomers & XYZers
Last week, Reloveution held our monthly power hour on the power question:
How Can We Overcome Generational Stereotypes/Challenges at Work?
It’s a juicy question, and one that comes with lots of feelings and limiting beliefs for individuals and organizations alike. I can’t go a week without talking to somebody who has a gripe with a full generation of humans—“I just don’t know how to deal with millennials.” “I need the Boomers to retire and then everything will be fine.” “I can’t believe Gen Zers are asking for so much when they haven’t earned anything yet.”
I hear these quips ALL THE TIME and every time, I remind people that generational stereotypes and challenges are not at all new. Older folks and younger folks have been villainizing and victimizing each other for centuries. Check out these newspaper clippings from the last 128(!) years:
Here’s the bottom line.
Generational differences are real, natural, inevitable, and GOOD. Our different preferences and ideas about how the world should work show that we are evolving. And evolution is required for humans to survive (whether we dig our heels in or not).
It is also true that generational differences are HARD and UNCOMFORTABLE to navigate, especially when people feel like their own survival, legacy, or future is on the line (which 22-year-olds and 65-year-olds often feel equally). Everybody wants to feel valued, appreciated, and seen. Nobody wants to feel threatened, siloed, or judged. And yet, our conversations about age groups most frequently result in the latter, with very little movement towards the former.
That’s what makes last week’s power question so important for leaders to consider in their own workplaces. You can download the full recording of the session here for a small donation, but here are the three things I want to drive home most vehemently.
1. When organizations have a universal culture and shared workplace identity that all prospective and current employees understand, respect, and are held accountable to, age becomes much less significant. We must be explicit about how we need and expect people to behave, communicate, manage, and collaborate in OUR unique workplace ecosystem. It doesn’t matter if Slack, email, text, or phone call is the primary communication method of your organization. But it matters A LOT that people know what the primary communication methods are and that they can intentionally choose a workplace that is aligned with their preferences (generational or not). It’s when your organization is unclear that you start to hear gripes about millennials who irrationally and disrespectfully respond to voicemails with texts, or about senior executives who don’t respond to Slack messages at all. So many intergenerational tension points can be solved by intentionally building culture and clearly articulating expectations. It’s not rocket science, but it does take work!
2. People need regular opportunities to get to know each other as human beings and not just as the annoying millennial finance associate or the old and out-of-touch vice president of marketing. When people have meaningful relationships across teams, departments, and hierarchy, they are more able and likely to empathize, collaborate, trust, and support each other. Building community must be a priority when looking to mitigate challenging generational dynamics.
3. Generational diversity is an advantage ALWAYS. Workplaces, outcomes, innovation, and problem-solving are always stronger when we have people who bring different viewpoints to the table AND are willing to listen to each other’s viewpoints to generate ideas and solutions. A generationally diverse workforce is better equipped to handle rapidly changing markets and climates, and also improves organizations’ ability to evolve and adapt. We (all of us) must shift our mindsets to see age differences as an asset rather than a barrier, and then watch the prophecy be fulfilled!
If your organization or team is struggling with generational tensions or could use some help in becoming more age-inclusive, we can help! Schedule a connection call to tell us about what you are experiencing (venting, crying, and yelling are okay at this point), and we'll take what we hear to create a package that addresses your specific needs. We're here for you and for your journey!