How to Bridge the Generation Gap for Greater Productivity

Your company’s employees likely range in age from just-out-of-college to nearing retirement — a span of more than 40 years. This can be a good thing: Generational differences can result in greater innovation and creativity. But cultural disconnects between younger and more tenured workers can also negatively affect productivity.

Any manager should guard against falling into the stereotype trap and recognize that there are exceptions to every assumption about generational groups. But there are still trends that can be helpful to understand in managing a broad-based work group.

For one thing, the generational groups express their commitment to the job in different ways. To workers further along in their career paths, spending long hours in the office is a reflection of their work ethic. Gen X or Y workers, however, tend to use their tech devices to stay on top of tasks; their physical presence is not as important as their connectivity.

Also, more tenured workers tend to view newer technology as a means to make tedious tasks faster and easier. Younger workers, on the other hand, see apps, the cloud and portable devices as the best and, sometimes, only route to productivity. The two groups also tackle problem-solving differently. Some workers tend to hunker down, only meeting with other team members when necessary. Many younger workers are known for spending more time doing what seems like socializing, but actually is a robust exchange of ideas that leads to problem solving. Again, these are all generalities but have an element of truth to them.

A true generation gap can interfere with productivity by impeding communication, which can lead to lowered morale. This in turn can cause workers to become disengaged, and sometimes can even cause employees to consider leaving the company: Six out of 10 workers responding to a recent survey said disengagement is reason enough for them to consider leaving a job.

So it’s important to do what you can to bridge the generational gap. Here are a few ways you can start that process:

1. Show your commitment from the start. When onboarding new hires, develop and select presentations from existing employees from various age groups. This will convey that your company values different abilities and experience levels.

2. Examine how your company disseminates information. You may need to include newer technology and protocols, with training to update some workers’ skills and to encourage younger workers to follow a common procedure. This is also an excellent opportunity to bring the groups together to share knowledge and discuss ideas for improvement.

3. Foster intergenerational relationships. Good managers make sure that different generations aren’t separating into their own cliques, which is a natural tendency. Hold departmental social events to help workers mix and connect. When you create teams, make sure different age groups are all represented. If your company participates in community service projects, pair up workers from a variety of generations.

4. Promote two-way mentoring. Too often the word mentor has a connotation of an older and wiser worker, but young people also have a lot to teach other generations. In your company’s mentoring program, make sure younger employees are on the giving end as well as the receiving end. Encourage employees of all ages to lead training in subjects in which they have unique knowledge and experience to share.

5. Redefine leadership. Identify and nurture potential leaders among workers of all age groups. Generational diversity at all levels of management shows that your company rewards commitment and expertise, not just seniority. Keep more-tenured workers engaged by encouraging them to share knowledge with emerging leaders.

6. Cultivate teamwork through professional development. Provide company-wide training in soft skills such as verbal and written communication, negotiation and collaboration. Design the courses to facilitate interaction within groups of diverse ages and experience levels.

Don’t let the generation gap have a negative impact on your company’s productivity. Instead, make the best use of your employees’ different experiences, approaches and work styles. This new approach will take time and effort, but it will be well worth the investment when employees of all age groups feel valued and respected, knowing their company recognizes each of their contributions.