We’re living through a workforce composed of 4 generations each with its unique set of values. A 21 year old is going to have vastly different priorities than a 78 year old. So, how do you get those groups to collaborate?

Tim Elmore, Founder and CEO at Growing Leaders, Inc., discusses generational diversity and how to create harmonious relationships between the groups.

Understanding generational diversity

When you think of an office workspace, it’s pretty diverse, isn’t it? You’re not just imagining a room full of 21 year olds. The reality is that the modern workspace is composed of four generations working together:

  • Gen Z
  • Millennials
  • Gen X
  • Baby boomers

Trying to get these four generations to work together can be tricky. Think of the conversations you have with your friends, your parents, and grandparents. The values just don’t always line up.

Tim shares an example of generational disconnect from Sherwin Williams. A student from Ohio State University worked for the company and started a Tik Tok channel mixing paint with items like blueberries to see what would happen. The channel amassed 1.4 million followers. The response from Sherwin Williams? The student was fired.

Missing the opportunity to capitalize on this, the Sherwin Williams example highlights Tim’s idea that people are like wet cement — the older we get, we harden and harden. So, while the young can learn from the old, it’s important to remember that the old have an equal opportunity to learn from the young. An old dog can always learn new tricks.

Reverse mentoring

Older generations learning from younger ones can’t just be relegated to an occasional conversation when they don’t understand the nuance of some computer software. In the same way we standardize older mentors to help younger ones emulate best practices in the field, we need younger mentors helping older generations become familiar with emerging tech.

Tim likens this relationship to what you’d expect if you were visiting a foreign country. Understanding the cultural differences and rising to the challenge to create harmonious relationships should mirror how we treat generational differences.

”If you traveled to another country, let’s say you went to Germany or France or China, you would expect when you landed to work harder at the relationships there, right? You’d be psyched up.” — Tim Elmore

What has shaped every generation

While every individual will have specific situations that shape who they are, there are some generalities that we can talk about for each of the generational groups. Tim walks us through some of the biggest differences:

  • Baby boomers: The name stemmed from a huge boom in new births — 78 million children. This was a time of expansion, which impacts baby boomer sentiment.
  • Gen X: Can also be referred to as baby busters, this generation started with the onset of the birth control pill. They grew up in a harder time with the Vietnam war and political scandal. As they watched their parents become worried with the state of the world, they became more cynical.
  • Millennials: Referred to because they would spend most of their life in the new millennium. They’ve experienced three economic downturns in their lifetime. They are concerned that they will struggle with economic security.
  • Gen Z: This is the newest group entering the workforce. They’ve grown up watching tragedies like school shootings and economic hardships.

How to speak to each group

With the understanding of how different these groups are, what are some best strategies to communicate with each? Tim shares some of the following to help bridge the gap while acknowledging that these suggestions may not work with every individual:

  • Baby boomers: Give them the bottom line.
  • Gen X: Keep the conversation real. As they tend to be cynical, it’s important to not dress up a request.
  • Millennials: This group grew up with video games and social media. Make communication interactive.
  • Gen Z: Information needs to be given quickly and efficiently.

Knowing the strengths of each group and how to speak with them will help embolden them. If you treat everyone the same, you will get an average work performance return.

Leading through a pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of anxieties for people. Knowing how to navigate this as a leader is crucial to keeping everyone afloat. Whether it be at home or in the office, the pandemic is just another lens through which you view your employees.

Imagine having two children at home with very different personalities. How you help them through the worries of the pandemic will differ depending on who you’re talking to; but, even though it may be difficult, it’s the only way to help them become better and stronger adults.

Letting employees know that they don’t have to worry about their personal anxieties because their supervisor is looking out for them can help keep the focus on the work at hand.

”If you love your people, they love you back.” — Tim Elmore

It’s easy to lead like everyone in the workplace is the same; but, you’re doing a disservice to your employees. Tim suggests treating people like a game of chess rather than checkers. Because everyone has their specific strengths and weaknesses, use that to everyone’s benefit.

Check out this additional resource mentioned during the episode: