Generation Gaps in Workplaces

13 Min Read

Juairia Haque Mahi

Case 1:

Mr. Ariful, a 58-year-old senior manager at a reputed company, has devoted his entire life to earn his reputation by working hard for his company. He thinks the millennials in his company do not respect his work ethic, and they are more dependent on technology.

Case 2:

Ms. Zara, a 30-year-old marketing executive, says, “Although senior colleagues of mine advised me to stick to the job I am in, if I don’t find the zeal inside me to work for a company and cannot utilise my skills properly, I’d definitely choose to apply for another job.”

Case 3: 

Atul Saha, a 25-year-old employee, shares, “My opinions are often devalued at my workplace filled with boomers. They judge me on the basis of my age, and I am barely taken seriously.”

Case 4: 

Admund, a 50-year-old employee, believes that he can write the documents faster than typing them as typing seems difficult to him. He often clashes with his young coworkers due to his old-school beliefs.

In these cases, the prevailing differences in opinions and prospects of professional life among the different generations are evident. Older generations tend to deprecate young workers and the younger ones anatomise senior workers for their stagnation and inflexibility with modernity.

Current workplace generation gaps are directly related to the diverse opinions, work-ethics, communication, experiences, and skills among the Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964), Generation X or Boomers (1965-1979), Generation Y or Millennials (1980-1994), and Generation Z (1996-present). 


Baby boomers in workplaces

Baby boomers are inclined towards working beyond the conventional retirement age. The communication system during their youth was limited to using telephones, sending letters by post, and using typewriters, which lead them to struggle to adapt to advancing technologies. Face-to-face communication at meetings is mostly preferred by this generation, contrasting to the millennials’, who are likely to communicate and interact through the internet. The work-ethics of baby boomers include prioritising work over everything and working hard to achieve self-worth. The majority of boomers also demand longer and extra vacations. They work best in teams, and want assents in teamwork. Being emphatic and competitive, evaluating meetings, and forming personal relationships with colleagues in workplaces are some positive values of baby boomers. They are mostly consumption-oriented workaholics accustomed to hierarchy, and believe that age equates to experience and skills.


Gen-X-ers/Boomers in workplaces

Experiencing imperious political and corporate environments, X-ers tend to be skeptical, autonomous, and self-focused. Contrary to baby boomers, boomers are familiar with technologies; they avoid long hours at work, and keep their professional lives separate from their personal lives. 

Boomers demand yearly promotions, increased salaries, and higher job titles. They work as a bridge between baby boomers and millennials. That is why they are adaptive to the work-ethics of both generations.

Millennials are generally not good at settling harmony among the workforce. Thus, Gen-X-ers can be good coaches and guides for young coworkers in their respective fields. Additionally, gen-X-ers know the best about thriving in a consistently altering environment.   


Gen-Y-ers/Millennials and Gen-Zers in workplaces

Gen-Y-ers have adopted immediacy and affability in their professional communication. They’re generally savvy, resourceful, and intuitive. They relish challenges, and admire accomplishments. Structured working environments where they can independently work and achieve their goals are what they seek.

Rapid proliferation of new technologies has expanded the vision of millennials, and so they opt to take challenges for positive possibilities. Modernised methods of tasks and flexibility with technology often make them outplay the expertise of boomers through updated skills; as such, they often have a hard time relating to senior coworkers, and this can even lead to rivalry. Being the most-supervised generation ever, they might not be rigid enough in combative situations. But their humane attitude drives them to actively play roles in social work, even at cost of less remuneration. 

Gen-Z-ers are tech-savvy, optimistic, and multi-taskers. They expect flexible working hours, consistent opportunities and feedback in workplaces. They prioritise meaningful jobs that satisfy them over the amount of earning.

Millennials and Gen-Z-ers want to utilise their technological skills to improve their work-life balance. Fulfillment from the job is prioritised over commitment to the job, as shown in case 2. Productivity, putting out the most with the least, being driven to grow, and developing skills to sustain and stand out in the super-competitive pool of workers are some of the notable qualities in Millennials and Gen-Z. 


As four generations are working side by side for the first time in history, scopes have been widened in workplaces, while also creating complicated working-environments. A common scenario at offices is — millennials receiving accolades for super-fast performances while boomer employees are not being appreciated for taking more time to accomplish similar tasks, even if those are done accurately. Therefore, the gap-bridging issue and open-communication among workers can be intricate and difficult to solve at times. But if the management undertakes necessary initiatives so that no worker feels devalued, or is devalued, things can move on the right track.


The fundamental issues that are faced

Communication deficiency and firmness to stick with one’s own work-ethics and beliefs instead of compromising and collaborating damage the camaraderie. Subsequently, these turn professional platforms into hostile environments for a lot of people. Training provided to older workers tends to cover only the basics of skills as they’re reckoned to be slow and inactive learners. Young trainees get to learn diverse things which assist in their skill-development. Hence, poorer training of older workers compared to the young ones magnifies the skill-gap between them. 

But task-management and projects are mostly assigned to and directed by senior workers, even if millennials possess better skills. Thus, millennial workers become exasperated of being unable to utilise and showcase their aptitude. Least opportunities to demonstrate their propensity cause them to lag behind in leadership, and results in poor performance due to inexperience. This inexperience is supposed to be the reason they are given more opportunities to learn, but instead they are given a handful of chances to practically implement what they learnt during apprenticeship. 

Almost everyone in the workplace wants to stay upper handed; in fact, the “KIA” (know it all) culture is one of the prime reasons for the problems faced. Millennials are disparaged as privileged while boomers are labelled outdated. Gen-X-ers often feel thwarted by older workers above them clogging up promotion paths as people tend to retire years later than the conventional retiring age, and frustrated because Millennials start crowding the workplace and bag promotions. Youths think they are better dealers for the thriving, competitive world whereas older workers unyieldingly believe they know more than the juniors. From a neutral vantage, whose solutions work better in any given situation should be regarded, irrespective of the time-frame they belong to. Instead of being the conceited, cankerous curmudgeon in workplaces, everyone should focus on being collateral, corroborated coworkers.


Pigeonholed at the workplace

Compartmentalising characteristics of the different aged workers in the offices, organisations, and companies, and treating them according to the stereotypes are not only unjust but also fetch drawbacks for the workplace. 

Stereotypically, senior workers are considered to be assiduous, responsible, and mature enough to deal with complex issues, whereas young workers are deemed as mavericks and inexperienced. Although young workers want to get directly involved with challenging tasks, as they believe in their modernity-leveraged potential, they are often not assigned with those tasks, considering the conventional belief of expertise coming with age, similar to case 3.

Middle-aged workers are seen as energetic and active as the range of their age consists most of the breadwinners. Older workers are often mistaken as grumpy and stubborn, and younger ones as irresponsible; some live up to the negative belief, and some don’t. Among the supposed negative traits of different generations in workplaces, boomers and baby boomers possess stagnation, obstinacy, cynicism, and unwillingness to learn new things and update, and the millennials possess impatience, lethargy, and inconsistency. Ultimately, only judging them on the basis of negative beliefs should be abandoned.  


Keys to bridging the gen-gap and resolving issues in the workplace

Contrary to popular belief, older employees can be tech-savvy and younger ones can be good listeners and communicators. Instead of focusing on the hackneyed traits of multi-generational workforce and their needs, management committees should exploit the strengths of different generations to build a successful, credible, and co-operative workplace. Figuring out the commonalities and differences of the workers, and making them work together by building compatible partnerships will usher in the overall benefit. Avoiding the “one size fits all” tendency by creating a middle ground that takes into account everyone’s demands, objectives, and expertise shall ensure a collaborative environment. Conducting “Teach-outs” to cross-train, and offsetting the strengths and weaknesses of the diverse generations are key to building a well-functioning workplace. 

Effective and proper communication among the multi-generational workforce, arranging mentorship programmes to proffer skills to other generations, perceiving the boundaries of formality and informality, percolating egoism out, understanding others’ drivers, preferences, beliefs, aspirations, and foundations shall definitely link the generational gap.

Baby boomers can train Gen-Zers using creativity and with the least usage of technology, with a view of lessening their excessive dependence on technology. 

Individuals, older or younger, seek proper evaluation. The debate between the aged’s wisdom and juvenile’s buoyancy shall remain for a longer period. If we evaluate individuals and their opinions  properly, along with combining wisdom and buoyancy, the generation gap in workplaces shall not cause difficulties. 


To conclude, addressing and overcoming the challenges of generation gaps in workplaces, both natural and contrived, do not aim to demolish the chasm, rather the intent is to bridge the gap effectively, so that multi-generational workforces are established as strong, cohesive teams to compete with the global economy, and fulfil their purposes.


The writer is a part of the TDA Editorial Team.

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