3 Tips for Managing Generational Differences

Color illustration of four men and women from a workplace.

IT managers today not only have to keep up with the rapid pace of technology and changes in the industry, they also have to manage generational differences on their IT teams.

The four generations — Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and Generation Z — may work together effectively a lot of the time, but productivity and morale can suffer when they don't. Here are some tips to help all generations in the workplace communicate and collaborate smoothly: 

1. Generational differences and communication challenges

While Baby Boomers may prefer the phone, it's the last thing most Gen Yers want. They use text messages, social media and apps much more frequently than emails. But by neglecting email inboxes, younger IT employees can miss important information. Even though some leading-edge companies use IM and cloud storage, email is still the most common medium for business communication and file sharing. What do you do when baby boomers prefer phone and face time, Gen Xers lean on email, and Millennials prefer to use other tools? 

TipFor communication differences, set guidelines and expectations so everyone is on the same page. You can also try platforms such as Google Chat that convert voicemails to text. Web services like HipChat allow users to message each other or an entire group over a browser or on a mobile app, and has settings so users can opt in to receive email notifications when their name is mentioned.

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2. Generational differences and education

While Baby Boomers and Gen Xers may have a more traditional foundation of technical knowledge, workers born later (after 1980) often leave college with training in fields that have only recently emerged and earn degrees that favor hands-on training over theory. Also, online learning is huge for younger IT pros.

TipEducational differences can be managed by encouraging an open exchange of knowledge between team members, as well as by setting up mentoring and reverse-mentoring programs. Keep up training for everyone, including the latest certification programs.

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3. Generational differences and cultural challenges

Baby Boomers may dress a bit more formally than their T-shirt-and-hoodie-wearing younger colleagues. Gen Yers view hierarchy at a firm in a different way than Gen Xers or Baby Boomers do. Similarly, doing things a certain way because "it's always been done that way" may not resonate with younger generations.

Tip: Reflect the culture and behaviors you want to encourage on your team. If you work in a conservative work environment, put on clothes you expect team members to wear. Do rules or results matter most in your firm? Emphasize the high-quality end results of completed projects, and not how they were completed. Show that there isn't a "certain way" things have to happen if you work in a more casual work environment.

The different generations in the workplace each have strengths and perspectives that are valuable to the success of your IT team. Spend some time finding common ground and smoothing the way for everyone to work together effectively, and you'll have a more productive and happy team.

Find out more about the preferences of Generation Z, those born between 1990 and 1999:

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More Resources for Managing Generational Differences:

Note: This post has been updated. It originally appeared on 12/29/14.