Generational Warfare at Work? How to Get the Most Out of Multigenerational Teams

Julie Bitely

| 4 min read

small group of people with computers working around a table.
What does she know? She’s just out of college. I can’t believe he still does it that way. Someone needs to teach grandpa some new tricks. If you work with people younger or older than you and have ever had thoughts similar to these, you might have engaged in some generational warfare on the job. Matt Havens, a motivational speaker and self-proclaimed generational expert said the current way of thinking about different generations working together is outdated and complicated. In a recent presentation to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network employees in West Michigan, Havens disrupted the idea that there are four distinct generations working together at the same time and instead separated workers into either young people or old people. Teams with a mix of old and young are good for business. In studies, teams of varying age ranges are consistently more productive than homogenous teams. Havens said getting to know each other as people goes a long way in building effective multi-generational teams. He explained that older people born before the advent of social media might not understand the loneliness that many young people experience. “The world today is much bigger than it used to be and young people are looking for a way to connect,” he said. That feeling of missing out or not living up to your potential that can result from being too consumed with the lifestyle images constantly bombarding us on Pinterest and Instagram can affect everyone, but Havens said older people have the advantage of having grown up in an age without constant contact. He said that offers them a grounding effect. Conversely, the rapid pace of change fostered by technology can often make people in older generations fearful of change, which younger people are adept at navigating. Considering their feelings and valuing their input when introducing new programs or ideas can help them get on board. Havens said employers can make new employees feel welcome by helping them be part of the conversation. Inviting them to present on a topic they’re familiar with and including them in the decision-making process are great ways to help younger members of the team feel valued. Takeaways from Haven’s talk gave specific advice for the whippersnappers and senior team members working hard every day. His advice to young people:
  • Advancement is a process and you probably shouldn’t expect a promotion your first week on the job. “You will get better at your career slowly and over time, because that is the only way it happens.”
  • Your company’s current practices and processes exist for extremely good reasons. This doesn’t mean things can’t be improved, but don’t completely discount what’s in place either.
  • Some new ideas are bad ideas. “The reason many of your older colleagues aren’t immediately excited about every new idea is because they don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
  • Some things move slower than you wish they would. Keep working hard and advancement will come in due time.
His advice to older people:
  • Advancement is a process that never stops. “As a professional, you should expect to keep learning new skills, new technologies, and new approaches in the last five years of your career just like you did in the first five years of your career.”
  • New ideas aren’t an attack on your own ideas or authority. There’s a good chance that current practices could be improved. When younger workers introduce new ideas, they’re not pointing out a weakness, but simply helping your workplace grow in the right direction.
  • Some new ideas are good ideas. “Without a doubt, some new ideas are going to become industry standard.” Don’t immediately discount a new idea just because it comes from a younger person.
  • Some things move faster than you wish they would. Embracing change is good for your career, despite your personal reservations.
No matter what generation you consider yourself to be a part of, Havens said you do not know everything there is to know. “Every generation needs the other, because no one group of people has a monopoly on knowledge,” Havens said. “You need your older colleagues to learn how they’ve done what they’ve done and to help guide you so that you don’t have to constantly reinvent the wheel and you need your younger colleagues to help you continuously look at your business from a new perspective.” If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
Photo credit: Startup Stock Photos
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