If the boss snaps for no reason or a colleague doesn’t seem to understand instructions, maybe neither they nor we are to blame. The Americans call it the generational divide and this problem affects teams consisting of people of very different ages. Each generation communicates with others in its own style and, as a result, interaction between colleagues becomes complicated, triggering real conflicts in some cases.
Each generation has its own divide
Friction between one generation and another is certainly nothing new: we’ve all been adolescents. But today the generational divide is more evident than it was in the past and may take the form of small misunderstandings that are often underestimated. In typical offices, it’s easy to see at least three age groups working side by side, each one with its own values, communicative style and particular mindset.
- According to some studies, the over-50s are perceived by other generations as “not very easy-going”, “excessively steadfast” and endowed with a strong work ethic. One of the most frequent generational divides for this category is in the way they choose to A face-to-face chat or a phone call are usually the most natural type of interaction for an over-50 who likes slow and contextualised interaction. If a millennial, accustomed to the pace of video games and the instant feedback of WhatsApp enters the team, it’s better to bear this in mind.
- Generation X. Those born between the early 1960s and the late 1970s grew up in a period of intense political and social change. On the Rider University “Organisational Leadership” courses, “X-ers” are classified as flexible workers who are reasonably receptive to innovation, but also rather intolerant of rules and authority. Exercising caution in the office: relax the strictest rules, in the same way as companies that have introduced Casual Friday, by relaxing the dress code or allowing their employees to bring their pets to the office.
- The steepest generational leap is evident with millennials: these digital natives tend to use technological channels often at the expense of direct communication. Having grown up in the era of the Erasmus programme and low-cost flights, these youngsters often don’t even consider the idea a permanent job and see their careers in an international perspective. A common source of dissatisfaction concerns working hours: inflexible office hours and some company rituals, such as never-ending meetings, may result in frustration and reduced performance. Those who were born around the turn of the century, may, instead, appreciate the guaranteed freedom of a remote workstation or flexible working hours.
Diversity? A strong point
Before misunderstandings arising from trivial age differences become entrenched in personal antipathies or reduced productivity, the magic formula of “age-correct” communication lies in knowing how to recognise and respect the distinctive features of each generation and, if required, in updating company policies. The most far-sighted companies have understood this by including a “diversity index” in their assessments: this parameter measures the ability to draw on the most varied human resources possible. Because diversity is a value. Even when age is involved.