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Closing the Gap Between Older and Younger Employees

September 18th, 2020

You have a team to manage, and because your company values diversity—as it should—your team is by no means monochromatic in race, gender, background, or specifically, age. Some of your employees are recent graduates in their 20s and some are in their 50s or approaching retirement. You’re proud of this wide range and the way it brings fresh air into the room. But you sometimes observe conflict and miscommunication between one generational cohort and another.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you work to turn age differences into opportunities for growth.

Encourage friendliness without forcing friendships.

It’s okay if your younger workers want to meet up on the weekends without inviting their baby boomer coworkers, and vice versa. If hurt feelings arise as a result of age groups seeking their own, try to bridge the gap without micromanaging social encounters outside of the professional sphere. Your employees are all adults; they can handle their affairs without your help. Instead, ask them to work harder at inclusivity within the walls of the workplace. Lunch, group projects, and coffee breaks are all opportunities to gently encourage efforts at comingling.

Help with the language barrier.

Slang and internet references that vary by age group can be a source of comedy and levity…or they can be a source of genuine stress and confusion. Steer your teams toward the first and away from the second. We all know that baby boomers and generation Z use different argot and respond to different kinds of jokes and metaphors. Keep differences fun, not infuriating, misleading, or divisive.

Respect paths already laid by the culture.

It’s not easy for a 50-year-old employee with decades of experience to be corrected and overruled by a 26-year-old boss. Sometimes this happens, but obtuseness or arrogance from the younger employee can grind the gears, and so can excessive insolence or passive aggression from the older employee. Encourage both to acknowledge the inherent difficulties of the situation and ask them to be flexible—both of them. The same applies to promotion decisions and leadership assignments that go against unspoken rules about the value of seniority, or the unspoken age implications inherent in mentoring relationships or assistance with new technology.

Don’t take age-specific management advice too seriously.

We’re often told that millennials respond well to this type of guidance and poorly to that one. We’re also told that you must never manage a baby boomer with this strategy or that one and you must always treat members of Generation Z in a very specific way…If you make a mistake, the consequences can be dire. This is rarely true. Your employees are unlikely to rebel, quit, spit in your eye, or make expensive mistakes because you accidentally addressed them the way you might speak to someone of a different age. Speak to the person, not the age cohort, and observe and learn from the response you receive. For more guidance, turn to the management experts at Merritt.

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