With the abundance of stereotypes (and memes) amplifying generational differences in today’s world, you would expect intergenerational conflict in the workplace to be cataclysmic. But it isn’t -- and that’s because the reality of generational difference is not nearly as dire as we’ve been led to believe.
In fact, when it comes to values, there are more similarities shared between the generations than there are differences. What is affecting our performance at work, however, is the belief that there are insurmountable differences between the generations. Bringing stereotypes and unfounded beliefs into work with us can have serious repercussions for employee culture.
But at Berkshire, we seem to have achieved a harmonious balance amidst a workforce characterized by generational diversity. How did we do it? And how can other employers establish a culture of cross-generational collaboration?
To get to the bottom of this, we sat down with Jess, a millennial, and Patrice, a baby boomer, to discuss the attitudes they bring to work and what they value most about their colleagues.
Maintaining Relationships and Encouraging Collaboration
In a world where we are more connected than ever before, collaboration is a critical skill. If we believe the stereotypes, however, we won’t expect much teamwork from the younger generations. A particularly bitter stereotype surrounding millennials is that they are entitled and self-centered. But our recent interview shed light on the way at least one millennial approached work relationships -- and, in the context of Jess’s attitude, this stereotype fell flat.
“Collaboration is really important,” says Jess. “I like having the opportunity to work with and get ideas from people outside of my department. I enjoy the chance to build relationships with people that I don't get to work with on a daily basis.”
Further research revealed that Jess’s interest in collaboration is actually a characteristic of her generation. One survey demonstrates that 74% of millennials prefer working and sharing ideas in teams. Conversely, younger generations often believe the opposing stereotype that baby boomers are disconnected from what’s going on in the world. But baby boomers are more capable of handling change and connecting with employees across the age spectrum than they’re given credit for.
“My sales team’s work is truly about relationships,” says Patrice. “Relationships not only with the clients, but within our company. Other managers and I have to give team members the resources they need to support the organization’s purpose.”
One important resource includes mentoring relationships between employees. While the pace of change today is more rapid than it’s ever been, we tend to forget that baby boomers have also experienced a lot of change in the workplace over the last 50 years. This is especially true for baby boomers from diverse gender, racial and ethnic backgrounds. Younger employees can learn a lot about coping with change from these veterans of change.
Respecting Open-Mindedness and Diversity of Thought
At the cusp of baby boomer retirement, now is the time for organizations to take advantage of a multigenerational workforce. Seven out of 10 employees enjoy working alongside other generations, and age diversity offers the benefit of fostering openness to change and new ideas.
“I have the utmost respect for my colleagues' patience and open-mindedness,” says Jess. “When I moved from one department to the other, people were very understanding while I was going through training. No one rushed me or made me feel bad about not knowing something or not being able to help them immediately.”
Although resistance to change and difference is a common stereotype of baby boomers, the biggest differences in adapting to change tend to come more from learning styles than age differences. Overall, baby boomers tend to prefer one-on-one learning, but the stereotype that they can’t adapt simply isn’t true. Mentoring relationships can go both ways: Older employees can pass on their experiences and institutional knowledge while younger employees can offer help adapting to technology and new perspectives.
“There are a lot of very smart people here,” says Patrice. “Their brains work in ways that I marvel at. And because they think in totally different ways from me, I like to hear their spin on things.”
Millennials and generation Z are often stereotyped as “inexperienced,” but differences in perspective and levels of experience is actually a key ingredient for steady corporate growth -- and age diversity can play a big role in that.
Regardless of age stereotypes, Berkshire’s healthy intergenerational workplace culture hinges on each individual’s personality and the behavior that is modeled around them. In any pool of candidates you will find individuals eager to learn and interested in collaboration -- and these two characteristics, at least at Berkshire, have helped us to bridge the generational gap.