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Cross-generational Workforces: An Advantage, Not a Roadblock

I was having coffee the other morning with a business colleague, and at a point we started talking about how some of his teams struggle to work well together. He was also voicing frustration about how some of his team members “totally get it” while “others don’t.”

So I started asking questions… Curiosity is my love language – *swoon*

As it turns out his teams are fairly diverse and made up of somewhat new and really experienced employees that range in age. Aha! The tension in teamwork, and the inconsistent results he was seeing were due to an Elephant named “cross-generational workforce.” His Elephant was that he was attempting to approach all of these employees the same way, and expecting them to react the same way.

This is not the case with a cross-generational workforce, my friends.

Did you know that we have 6 generations alive in the U.S. right now, and 5 of those generations are in the workforce? That could mean that some of your employees saw the invention of the television, while others have never known what life is like without the internet.

That is massive!! I, myself fall into a middle generation where I did my 5th grade science report using a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica that my mom bought from a door salesman (for real), and my university studies using an endless research library accessed from anywhere I wanted online.

These experiences shape who we are as individuals. The mindset and how the world is perceived by someone who went from radio to TV, and Encyclopedia to internet is really different. The way these people relate to work and how they communicate is also diverse.

I find this fascinating and intriguing. People are really cool and inspiring, and also hard and weird. You may have heard me say that before, and it’s because it’s so true. Generational differences make this really apparent.

There are 4 primary areas I recommend focusing on when an organization has multiple generations to navigate:

  1. Mindset – how life experiences effect perception and behavior
  2. Working styles – location, culture, pace, resource use, etc.
  3. Relationship – the differences in how people interact in the workplace, how they relate to an organization, how they relate to authority, and how they relate to work in general (is it meant to be fulfilling, simply a paycheck, something in between…?)
  4. Communication – someone’s style and preferences for internal and external comms.

The last focus on that list (communication styles) is one of the biggest cross-generational differences, primarily due to drastic changes in technology in a relatively short amount of time. Because of the diversity of experiences of a cross-generational team, you cannot approach all of your employees the same way and expect each of them to react the same way. Accepting their experiential differences will help you recognize that communication with them should be somewhat different too. The goal, is to find ways create bridges among a generationally diverse team. Modifying communication methods is an impactful area that will foster greater collaboration and therefore create a more effective team. I mean, that’s a wide variety of knowledge to mesh together and create something great. You want them to learn from one another – It’s an advantage that you can maximize!


[[One last note – I want to emphasize that it’s important to avoid stereotyping a group of employees based on their age or generation. Keep general differences on your mind, and think of it as helpful information to use to your company’s advantage (rather than a write-off or a set of excuses).]]


With the workforce we have right now, there is a striking blend of generations during many Mergers or Acquisitions. If you are in the M&A space, have you included this as part of your integration planning?


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