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Dealing with Generation Gaps in the Workplace

written by: sherisaid•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 8/11/2010

With companies eager to bring in fresh ideas with younger workers and valuing the contributions of older workers, a generation gap in the workplace is becoming an accepted norm. But how can this wide variety of ages work together? Understanding each generation is the key.

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    Baby Boomers and Generation Jones

    Workers over 45 have seen a lot of changes over the course of their careers and are more work-oriented and loyal than younger, chat, by mzacha generations, who tend to be more balanced and quicker to change jobs. Boomers, and the tail end of the boomer generation, often called "generation Jones," are willing workers who bring a lot of tried-and-true experience to the table, but are often overlooked in the business rush to bring fresh, hip ideas to update the company image. They work best when allowed to do their jobs with autonomy and accountability as opposed to micro-management. Younger managers who undervalue older workers risk cutting productivity and creating mistrust and resentment in the workplace. Older workers are fairly low maintenance, but when they perceive respect and trust, they far outshine their job responsibilities, but they are most likely to foster a generation gap in the workplace when working with people who are the ages of their children and grandchildren.

    Image Credit:, chat, by mzacha

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    Generation X

    Gen Xers are the children of workaholic boomer parents. Their outlook is more balanced and less work-centric. They thrive on change and flexibility, and they understand that they are expected to produce in order to earn the time off they require to build a life independent of work. As a result, they strive to finish more work in less time to afford more time with their families and personal lives. Gen Xers embrace technology and bring innovation, energy, and fresh ideas to the corporate table. They work well in teams with shared responsibility and expect rewards for performance. Older coworkers should offer respect for their education and ideas and praise them for jobs well done.

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    Generation Y

    Gen Y grew up online and, as a result, has had more information input than any preceding generation. Their outlook is a comprehensive world view with a strong social component. They respond very well to interaction with mentors and in team situations. Gen Y is most likely to perceive a generation gap in the workplace. They are notorious for jumping from job to job, and they crave variety and change. The key to retaining Gen Yers is constant challenge and a friendly work atmosphere. Keep them moving onward and upward with training, encouragement, performance rewards, and collaboration.

    Gen Y workers want to identify with a cause and look for a company with an ethic they can relate to. Companies with a green corporate image or an innovative, forward-thinking outlook have a better chance of attracting and holding younger workers. To retain Gen Yers, communication is crucial. They have an undeniable sense of entitlement and need constant feedback and detailed job expectation.

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    Crossing the Generation Gap

    No matter how young or old the employee, some things remain true. To deal with any kind of generation gap in the workplace, give employees communication, respect, and clear expectations. They will reject micro-management and deserve to have trust and a certain level of autonomy. If they can't produce without constant supervision, they are simply in the wrong position. It should take only one person to do a job intended for one person. In most offices, the manager sets the tone of the office. Friendly, open, and communicative offices create an atmosphere far more conducive to optimum work output than tense, resentful, and secretive environments. Understanding employees and their expectations is the key to a more productive office.