From time to time, no matter where you work, there are bound to be some co-workers with whom you have a hard time collaborating. This may be due to different personalities or simply not knowing each other well enough. This can lead to misunderstandings or resentment when you’re not on the same page. Sometimes these divisions can seem to be generational. What happens when baby boomers, Gen-Xers, and millennials work together but don’t see eye-to-eye? How do you overcome a generational clash so that you can work together efficiently?
Boomers vs. Millennials
Jessica works at a successful startup company. She runs the marketing team, which is primarily made up of employees in their 20s and 30s. They frequently work with the sales team, which is mainly employees in their 50s and 60s. Since the two teams started working together, Jessica has noticed a major clash in how the generations communicate and work.
The baby boomer sales department often expresses that the marketing team should listen to them more, should trust in their experience and expertise, and should be stricter with certain employees that don’t meet the Boomers’ standards. The millennial marketers, on the other hand, feel that the sales team treats them condescendingly, should be more open to newer working styles, and should trust their judgment in spite of their age.
All in all, the two teams communicate differently and don’t see eye-to-eye on how to work with one another. The misunderstandings have led to work issues, hurt feelings, and even some employee turnover.
Jessica, a millennial herself, has struggled to find a way to help both teams work together more agreeably.
Learning to Get Along
While baby boomers and millennials (not to mention Gen-Xers) tend to have their own working and communication styles, they must be able to work together. This means learning new ways of doing things and how to bridge the gap.
Jessica and the head of sales both spoke to their company’s CEO and worked to help their teams understand each other better: First, both teams strive to communicate more clearly and openly. They confirm their plans with one another and make sure they’re always on the same page.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, they now put more trust in one another. The baby boomers have had years of experience, and that is an important value they bring. However, millennials have an equally vital perspective and set of skills, and often bring innovative new ideas. Both sides need to see what the other brings and respect each other. No matter how old or young an employee is, she brings a particular value and deserves to be heard and respected in the workplace.
Ever since the sales and marketing departments at Jessica’s company tackled this issue, the workflow has been much smoother. They rarely experience hurt feelings anymore. They’ve learned to overcome their working and communication differences in a way that is more collaborative and respectful.
Overcoming Generational Divides in Your Workplace
Have you noticed a clash between generations in your workplace? Do the baby boomers, Gen-Xers, millennials, and even incoming Generation Zs think, speak, and work in different ways? Though their diverse styles may seem incompatible, different generations can always find a way to work together. They just have to be conscious of those differences and be willing to bridge that gap.
The first thing you must do is listen. Don’t just hear what your co-workers are saying; actually listen and try to understand what they mean. Try to understand why they’re saying this and why it matters. Don’t jump to conclusions, especially negative ones. More often than not, your co-worker is not trying to offend or bother you.
Next, get the conversation going by talking to your fellow employees about any struggles you’ve encountered within the team. Ask them how they best work and communicate, and let them know your own preferences. Express your effort in always listening to them and understanding them, and ask that they offer the same commitment to you. Finally, see if you can come to a mutual agreement that allows everyone to work together more effectively.
Alternately, you can talk to a supervisor about the differences in working styles among the generations, and ask if they can lead the team to a better way of working together. As was the case at Jessica’s company, your team’s supervisor can be instrumental in helping all employees communicate and work effectively. The environment should be one of mutual respect and trust, where no matter your age or experience level, you have a voice that is valued.
Generational clashes can be difficult to overcome, especially if you feel intimidated and inexperienced. Remember: your co-workers will recognize that you bring a unique perspective and value, regardless of your age. Strive to respect all of your co-workers, and to work in a way that is collaborative and open.
Amanda Whitbeck is Vice President of Operations at Petite2Queen. Since earning her master’s degree in Global Entertainment & Music Business from Berklee College of Music, Amanda has played key roles facilitating growth at start-ups. She’s also worked in diverse sectors of the music industry, from live events promotion to entertainment journalism. She brings her expertise in music business, writing, and website development to Petite2Queen.