Overseeing a large group of employees can be a challenge to even the most seasoned managers. Women leaders in particular tend to pay close attention to how our employees operate on more personal levels.
Since it’s our nature to be attuned to other’s feelings and moods, we’re likely to recognize if someone if feeling stressed out, or if a conflict between two employees is simmering.
Employees of different generations who work closely together could be a source for that conflict. A recent Progressive Women’s Leadership phone poll revealed that many women leaders struggle to deal with age gaps while managing large groups.
Since they all have to work together on a regular basis, certain situations give rise to frustrations. For example:
“Darren is just so slow; I feel like I have to pull teeth to get his reports, and I can’t finish mine until he turns them in!”
“Katie just assumes everyone knows our new software as well as she does, but I didn’t get to use the program at previous jobs like she did.”
As leaders, it’s our job to inspire employees from different generations to set aside differences in work ethic and find common ground.
How to Fight Generational Conflict
You can’t help the preconceived ideas people have about those who represent a different generation. Some of these ideas are founded (intentionally or not) in representations of generations in the media. For instance, older workers are stubborn and resist change; younger workers “slack off” or don’t act professionally. While these stereotypes might make for good comedy, in the real working world, they can hinder your workplace dynamic and drain productivity.
Your challenge as a leader of cross-generation employees is to get them to work together, while helping them both understand what the other brings to the table. The good news is, it’s completely possible if you keep these five ideas in mind:
- Promote each generation’s strong points. Highlight employees who are “veterans” and who’ve either worked for the company or within the field for a long time. They’ve been around, so they know what works and what doesn’t on practical levels. Likewise, if your younger employees have expertise in newer skills (e.g., creativity with PowerPoint, managing social media), point it out and tell your team those employees are the “go-to” person to ask for help if they need it.
- Discourage “group thinking” where you can. As in the example above, it could be common for younger workers to think older employees will be lost when it comes to using new tech (e.g., Skype for tele-meetings, managing website content), but that’s not always the case. Emphasize that everyone has unique talents to bring to the table, regardless of past experience and knowledge.
- Mix-mentor. It’s always tempting to match new employees with similar people—that is, according to gender and age. But in the end this limits the learning ability of the new hire and the teaching power of the mentor. People of different generations can teach each other in ways often overlooked. Better matches are those that pair people with similar learning styles or backgrounds.
- It’s OK to bend some “rules.” Remind older workers that what used to be unwritten rules of communication might not apply anymore. For example, it’s now considered acceptable to respond to a phone message with an email. Conversely, younger workers should be reminded that people above a certain age can be less attached to portable tech than they are. It might take an older worker more than 30 seconds to respond to a text—it’s not because they’re trying to ignore you.
- Get over the idea of “fairness.” A lot of older workers complain that the younger generations are coddled and haven’t “paid their dues.” Likewise, younger employees may begrudge some older employees’ tenure, complaining that “seniority” enables underperformance on the job. While these situations can sometimes materialize, as a leader you can emphasize that ability and confidence on the job shouldn’t be a time competition. Stress that effort and merit are the values that matter, not how long anyone’s been around (or not).
Fostering work camaraderie between employees of different generations can sometimes be sticky. But when you focus on the positive aspects of your team’s diversity of age and experience, it sets the tone for both groups to work together with mutual admiration and respect.