4 Ways to Breakdown Generational Barriers


In addition to offering programs to attract and retain workers of all ages, it’s important for HR departments to facilitate smooth interactions among the generations. Encouraging employees to ditch blanket generalizations is a good first step. HR can also take several other specific actions.

1) Training

Training is a two-way street: younger managers must learn how to motivate and engage older workers, and more seasoned employees need to learn how best to approach a supervisor who is younger than them. As you design your training programs, keep the following in mind:

It is a common misconception among new managers that they must know all the answers from the moment they’re promoted. Teach your junior managers that it’s okay (and expected) for them to consult with their employees. With that information in hand, a manager’s job is to set priorities and goals, then engage employees of all ages on how to reach those goals. Encourage junior managers to seek guidance from senior employees (who may have insight on what works in the organization’s culture) and take advantage of their knowledge and experience to learn and to make better decisions!

With older workers, don’t ignore the elephant in the room: have an open discussion about how, regardless of anyone’s age, it can be hard for someone to work for a manager who knows less than he or she does. Teach senior employees how to approach a less seasoned manager to offer suggestions without threatening that person’s authority or making him or her feel unqualified to lead.

2) Accommodation of Different Learning Styles

The Baby Boomers ushered in the era of fax machines, whereas the Millennials grew up with the Internet. Each generation’s experience with technology can shape its different learning styles. So be sure to build training that accommodates multiple learning methods, including in-person, online, and self-paced programs.

3) Reverse Mentoring

When most of us think of mentoring, we typically picture a senior executive helping a more junior employee. This arrangement certainly has its benefits, particularly if an older team member is interested in transitioning to fewer hours. However, reverse mentoring, in which a junior team member helps a more seasoned employee, has its own appeal, too. For example, it can enable older workers to learn the latest trends or technology they need to know to stay current. In any mentoring relationship, be sure to set goals, identify measurable outcomes, and celebrate achievements.

4) Multiple communication methods

Using multiple communication methods is smart business within any team. When big age gaps among team members exist, however, sending messages via several platforms can be especially useful for making sure that everyone gets the same message. IMs, texts, e-mail, written memos—use them all to ensure that you reach all teams via their preferred communication methods.

Each generation brings a unique set of skills into the office. Fostering an environment of open communication with understanding and respect for those differences will go a long way toward strengthening a company’s ability to remain competitive in the marketplace. With older generations staying in the workplace and younger generations joining them there, the multi-generational workplace is rapidly becoming the norm, not the exception. So don’t just watch this scenario play out on its own—take action now! A workforce strategy that addresses the presence of different age groups of employees head-on can demonstrate how age diversity (with the differences and similarities it brings) can create stronger companies.

This blog was adapted from an original blog by Val Grubb & Associates, to read the full blog or read more of Val's blogs click here.