Colleagues of different generations talking and smiling

There’s an interesting trend in the United States that is starting to catch up with the ways of the rest of the world. Over the past several years, a greater number Americans are living in multigenerational households. In fact, the figure is up to one in four people in the country.

In one study, conducted by Generations United, 76% of people living in multigenerational households reported having enhanced bonds and relationships. 76% described favorable impacts on their mental or physical health. Another study showed that 57% of respondents say the experience has been positive (compared with only 17% reporting negative experiences).

With such encouraging statistics about the power of a multigenerational approach, it’s made me wonder why the perception of generational differences in the workplace is often so focused on the potential for strife. Of course, workspaces are not the same as family environments. However, it stands to reason that no matter the setting, uniting people of varying ages can have advantages that far outweigh the challenges.

If individuals were to perceive age-related nuances as just that – nuances – and focus on the gifts that come from these distinct characteristics, imagine the positive impacts we might see in the workplace.

Shine a Positive Light on Generational Differences

To create a workplace culture that honors all personnel, it’s important to empower employees with tools to recognize distinctions and appreciate the value they bring. Get started by:

  • Practicing curiosity
  • Honoring a person’s age and stage of life
  • Celebrating diversity

Practicing Curiosity

One way to mitigate inherent biases that may come from generational differences is to replace assumptions with curiosity, which is easier said than done. After all, it’s human nature to make snap judgments.

If someone behaves in a way that is unexpected – or at odds with one’s standard approach – many individuals may make up a story about why their colleague reacted in a certain manner. Over time, these tales could cause them to make inferences about a person or groups that are not accurate.

For instance, blanket statements are regularly made about each generation and their needs, and yet, we know that every person is unique. Even if individuals share similarities, the reasoning could have less to do with the year they were born and more to do with their experiences, backgrounds or life events.

Embracing curiosity helps coworkers explore other perspectives. Operating with this mindset enhances relationships and boosts creativity because it allows colleagues to break down preconceived notions.

To amplify curiosity, practice asking open-ended questions and most importantly, listen actively. If something does not make sense, pause, assess what is truly known about the circumstance or person and seek clarity.

By trying to hear directly from colleagues and avoid assigning generation-based narratives, employees can bust their own biases about age.

Honoring a Person’s Age and Stage of Life

At Emergenetics®, we often use our Thinking and Behavioral preference to facilitate our communication. Naming our preferred Attributes serves as a framework to talk about how our inclinations are influencing the way we interpret information as well as advocate for what we need to move forward.

Periodically, I’ll be in meetings where a colleague of mine may be providing step-by-step instructions to support a new process that our team is implementing. Before I can truly appreciate the details, I need to know why we’re engaging in the process and how it’s going to benefit us.

Through the language of the Attributes, I can share that I’m missing pieces of information from my Analytical preference and request that my coworker explains the purpose behind the change and what it will help us accomplish. Because my colleague recognizes our shared vernacular, they can take in my questions to respond positively and productively.

A similar frame can be applied to age-related differences. Simply calling attention to how lived experiences and generational expectations may inform our interests or concerns can reduce misunderstandings and ease communication.

For example, if a manager from the baby boomer cohort is supervising a millennial, they might be surprised by their direct report’s request for frequent, immediate feedback. By having a conversation around it, noting this discrepancy and giving their team member an opportunity to share why input is so important to them, the manager can dispel their own assumptions and better support their staff.

It all begins by using frames, such as a person’s age and life stage, to determine where differences may be coming from and create space to seek understanding.

Celebrating Diversity

Once individuals adopt curiosity and begin discussing their distinct characteristics, they are likely to find that there is strength in incorporating various perspectives.

Let’s revisit the example of the millennial and their baby boomer manager. While the supervisor might be used to giving pre-planned performance evaluations, the real-time conversations that the direct report craves may lead to faster performance improvements, which is likely to delight the manager.

The realization that diverse approaches can inspire better results is at the core of creating an atmosphere where all generations can collaborate productively. When individuals make time to learn about how each person prefers to navigate their work and respect those variations, the whole organization stands to benefit.

We see these sorts of outcomes all the time at the companies we partner with. By showing the strengths of each Thinking and Behavioral preference and the value they bring to the conversations and decision-making, it opens new ideas and opportunities for positive change.

Just as an organization profits from innovation and process improvements, employees benefit too. Having their points of view appreciated and validated promotes a culture of belonging.

Help staff discover the gifts of their multigenerational colleagues by encouraging them to learn about each other and partner on projects. When they see the value that comes from the multitude of experiences, the climate will be more supportive of age diversity.

While it’s common for people to have some preconceived notions about generations – their own as well as those that come before and after – they can certainly overcome those assumptions through curiosity and a commitment to understanding others. Using an open approach supports a workplace where everyone feels respected and encouraged to share their differing insights, leading to greater engagement for all.

Interested in learning more about how Emergenetics can help you create a common language? Explore our website or fill out the form below to speak with one of our team members today.

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