One-word email responses. Hyper-controlling bosses. Lazy employees. Whether we’re on the road speaking with audience members, facilitating trainings for organizations, or consulting with clients, we consistently hear the same issues regarding generational frustrations in the workplace. We’ve labeled them ClashPoints, which are areas that are likely to cause tension (ranging from mild annoyances to more serious issues) but where each generation has a valid point of view. The key is to understand why each generation has that point of view, so you can work to build solutions and avoid employees coming to verbal fisticuffs. From communication to motivation, we’ve provided the five main ClashPoints we frequently see in the workplace and offer some tips on how to best serve the different generations.
Perhaps the single biggest workplace struggle is communication. From the choice of communication medium, to frequency of usage and the actual messages being sent back and forth, opportunities for generational miscommunication abound. Those who use instant messaging platforms can experience frustration, either with coworkers who are unresponsive to queries or because they are unsure of how to navigate a new technological landscape. In fact, one Boomer we heard from was so upset by the consistent lack of response from Millennial coworkers who had messaged him first that he simply quit using the platform altogether. And don’t even get us started on the phone, whose shrill ring can send tremors of terror into the hearts of Millennials and Gen Edgers. With so many mediums, generational preferences, and communication styles, there are more ways than ever for daily interactions to get lost in translation.
For Gen Edgers: Default to visual communication, whether it’s in person or digital, and keep it explicit and concise so they know precisely what’s expected of them.
Just on the heels of communication issues are complaints about work ethic. Traditional definitions of work ethic equate long hours with hard work. Now, the new definition focuses more on results than the old adage “butts in seats.” We’ve heard older generations frequently lament that their younger coworkers seem more focused on shaking up the system than with finishing their tasks. Younger generations are concerned not only with being labeled incompetent, but also with a few of the older workers who seem content to stay apace with the status quo. Most of these negative perceptions stem from misunderstandings surrounding generational expectations of work ethic, but what it ultimately boils down to is that hard work looks different to each generation.
For Millennials: Recognize that Millennials tend to integrate their work and personal lives and will oftentimes work off the clock to get stuff done. If possible, allow them the flexibility and freedom they desire by letting them work offsite occasionally.
Perhaps one of the most difficult tasks as a manager is knowing how to empower your employees. One reason for this can be attributed to the Peter Principle, which posits that people rise to their level of incompetence. Or rather, that those who do their jobs well continue to get promoted to positions that are far beyond their skills/expertise. Think Michael Scott from The Office, who was a top sales person but quite possibly the world’s worst boss (despite his hand-crafted mug that said otherwise). It takes much more than doing one’s own job well to be able to lead and inspire others in a way that’s productive and positive; it’s even more difficult when you account for the various ways in which different generations want to be empowered. For example, what seems like micromanaging to an older employee can be a saving grace for a younger one. Ultimately, at the core of empowerment is trusting employees and making them feel like a crucial part of the company’s culture and success.
For Xers: Take some advice from Frozen and let it go-ooo. Appeal to Gen Xers’ need for independence by giving them the space to flex their skills—don’t second guess their decisions, and only step in when necessary.
Another common issue we see managers struggle with is how to properly motivate and reward their employees in a way that resonates. Millennials, a generation motivated to earn promotions—and quick ones at that—seem to be particularly challenging. There’s been a shift in how older versus younger generations view their career progression in an organization. Sure, all generations wanted to quickly level-up in their careers when they were young professionals, but for Millennials, fast change and progression have been a standard in every facet of their lives. It’s something they’ve come to expect, and we refer to this as the upgrade cycle. Whether it’s the latest tech in their pockets or their current role in the workplace, this way of thinking has persisted such that Millennials feel they need to be constantly upgrading their skills. While all employees would no doubt appreciate hefty raises, there are plenty of other ways beyond money to effectively reward each generation, and for Millennials, helping them further their skills is key.
For Boomers: For a generation that’s both competitive but also wants to make an impact on their organization, calling out their accomplishments publicly lets them know that they’re excelling at their job and standing out from the pack.
Whether it’s issues with the structure of the company, management, or the amount of work (or lack thereof) an employee has to do, it can become all too easy to get burned out. Boomers may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks on their plate; Xers may feel stuck in their current role, and unable to see opportunities for growth; Millennials may feel frustrated with getting tasked with what seems to be busy work; and Edgers may feel they’re being overlooked for projects. Riding the burnout #strugglebus can cause exhaustion, which can dangerously lower motivation and engagement. And when employees feel this way, it’s not a stretch to assume that they may start to look elsewhere for greener pastures—especially the younger generations.
For Edgers: Keep Edgers feeling engaged by giving them enough to do. This gen is a whiz at multitasking, so don’t be afraid to pile on the projects.
Implementing a generational approach with your coworkers and those you manage is a great starting place in transforming how you communicate, motivate, and empower (to name a few). By understanding and validating each generation’s point of view, you can avoid misunderstandings in the workplace. Not only does this save you precious time and energy, it also protects your bottom line. Addressing these ClashPoints and better engaging your multigenerational workforce is key to a happy, thriving workplace.