Is bridging the gap between baby boomers and millennials in the workplace this easy?

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During the week, Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan revealed that based on her own projections, age discrimination in Australian workplaces is costing our economy $33 billion, close to 2.5% of our total economic value. If it is something so costly, and so valuable to Australia, then why aren’t we doing more to keep baby boomers in the workforce in happy environments that they enjoy and where they feel valued for their contributions? And how can we, as baby boomers, try to bridge the gap ourselves?

Firstly, we need to recognise and understand the benefits of baby boomers and millennials working together because even though there is obviously a huge economic value, we need to see the real value. There are two key benefits to multigenerational workplaces; the complimentary skill set and the cohesion between experience and potential.

Complimentary skill set

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There is a shift in education that has been occurring since the early 90s. There is the ongoing trend that theoretical knowledge, which once reigned supreme, is being surpassed by the modern needs for practical knowledge and skills. People nowadays are learning differently to the way we once did but unless we refresh our own skills regularly, we won’t truly understand that. In a workplace team that can house both theoretical understanding and practical knowledge, it becomes a complimentary environment where the skills of both parties can be used together to enhance productivity and performance. This is a big part of why employers really should be striving for a generationally integrated workforce.

 

Experience and potential

The single most poignant difference between baby boomers and millennials is that one has experience and other has potential. This means that multi-generational teams have both traditional leadership and understanding as well as innovation and creativity. A productive multi-generational workforce will be able to harness the potential of millennials by being guided by the baby boomers.

This is why having environments and workplaces that foster the positive integration of millennials and baby boomers is so important. But how do we work together, both generations and those in between, to create these workplaces?

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Barclay’s Wealth surveyed the Great Britain workforce to identify the differences in workplace behaviour and attitudes between generations their findings are the basis for the three areas that need to be managed in order for multigenerational workplaces to work harmoniously.

Firstly, the major communication methods are entirely different between generations. The survey found that baby boomers prefer to use the phone or face-to-face communication and value personal interaction as opposed to hastiness or a quick response, whereas millennials preferred digital communications via text message, email or social media and value a quick response more than personal interactions. This poses a large problem to an integrated workforce as from the outset the generations value different things. This is where an understanding of each other and flexibility becomes important. Millennials need to understand that we conduct business in one way and be open to communicating like that. Just in the same way we need to make sure we are willing to understand their position and have the ability to communicate in their preferred way too. It all comes down to flexibility.

Secondly, there is a huge difference to the attitudes of each generation. Baby boomers have the attitude that only their employer can determine their future career while millennials have the attitude that they don’t work “for” people, they work “with” people. The expectations of each generation are different and the only way to find harmony between them is to develop an understanding of how each other works and thinks. Unless this happens, each generation will be trying to push a square peg in a round hole and this will never be successful.

Thirdly, there has to be the desire to work together for a common goal. The survey found that baby boomers aspirations are to have job security whereas millennials strive for flexibility and freedom. This means that the primary purpose for coming to work and working hard is different for each generation. This is why we have to ourselves have an inclusive approach to multigenerational workplaces. We need to find a common goal and be ready to work together for those goals, without this, workplaces will never have the cohesion they need.

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It comes down to those three things. And they need to be considered by not just baby boomers but millennials too. They may not hold the answers to any big questions, but if we can apply these to ourselves in our workplaces, we might find a way to find success in fuelling that $33 billion gap in our economy…

Have you encountered workplace discrimination? Do you feel you are flexible, understanding and have an inclusive approach to working with millennials?