Working with different generations in your business

Have you encountered any issues when different generations work together?

Or is the so-called Generation Gap not something that you’ve noticed when you recruit younger people into your team?

People often talk about a generation gap and highlight the difficulties that different generations have working together. But why would that be?

In the not-too-distant past, when different generations worked together the hierarchy was different. Seniority was often defined by age and length of service. If you were older and had been in an organisation for a long time, you were generally considered senior. You likely didn’t have someone much younger telling you what to do, and long service meant you were the expert.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) jobs for life are no longer a thing, and technology changes fast which means that older employees often rely on their younger colleagues in a way that they didn’t previously. This shift from older=expert and younger=novice has changed the world of business, particularly when those different generations come together.

First, what are the different generations?

Generation X (Gen-X) are those born between the mid-60s and about 1980. They are the ones who are in the middle to latter part of their career. They began their working life right at the advent of the digital age and their career choices will have shaped their approach to modern tech.

Generation Z (Gen Z) are those born after the late-1990s. Their entire lives have been underpinned by the internet and social media. They are used to keeping up with an ever-changing landscape and they understand that their ability to be flexible and agile is key to their success in work.

Millennials (or Gen Y) are those in between – they straddle Gen X and Z, and for the purpose of this post, we’ll leave them be.

When it comes to talking about generational differences, keep in mind that people are, of course, diverse and unique. Their differences stem from a huge range of factors, not just the generation into which they fall.

That said, understanding a little about those key generational differences is useful when you lead an organisation so you can all benefit from the differing perspectives and experiences they bring.

Understanding Key Generational Differences

Gen Xers aren’t tied to the idea of a job for life in the way previous generations were, but they did grow up surrounded by the concepts of loyalty, a healthy dose of working hard and career progression. They generally value both job security and independence while aiming to keep up with developments in tech and the workplace in general. They are also the first generation to have really questioned the need for hierarchy at work.

Conversely, Gen Z has grown up with, and embraced technology as an integral part of their lives. They are socially conscious, believing that authenticity and values in business lead their career progression. They’ve grown up with an entrepreneurial mindset which leads them to push boundaries in all kinds of ways in life and in work.

The differences in these core values can lead to friction if they are seen as failings in each generation. But, if seen as different sides of the same coin, they offer potential for learning, efficiency and a successful companywide culture.

Here are our 4 key areas that will help to bridge the gap when working with these different generations:

Communication Styles:

Gen Xers often prefer direct and clear communication. A generation which tends to prefer personal interaction over digital comms. They probably love being able to work remotely and yet feel something is missing by not being in the office. These are the ones who forget to mute/unmute on video calls.

Gen Zs are more comfortable with digital comms and will use whichever messaging apps, visuals and multimedia formats you give them.

While the two generations are perfectly capable of communicating well with each other, it is worth being aware of the potential for misunderstanding when working with different generations and media.

Strengths and Weaknesses:

Gen X have been in employment for a long time. They bring a wealth of experience and industry knowledge, along with a track record. It pays to listen to their experiences even if they aren’t directly relevant to your business or industry. Lessons can be applied to a variety of new situations – even if the tech is different.

Conversely, we can all benefit from Gen Z’s technological skills, agility and social media know-how. The new perspectives that Gen Z bring inspire creativity and innovation particularly when it comes to business challenges.

Working together:

Demonstrate that you value the experience and skills everyone brings. You might implement a formal mentoring programme so people can share knowledge and experience across the generations. Reverse mentoring (where someone senior is mentored by a younger or more junior employee) is another way to mix things up.

Avoid siloing departments and generations. Encourage those of differing ages and skills to team up to solve problems and get them involved with strategy. You’ll be surprised by the insights and solutions a mixed group come up with.

Adapt and learn:

Challenge stereotypes by being proactive yourself and in your organisation. Lead the way in learning about how other people do things. Be open about mistakes so people know it’s ok to get things wrong. Find out how you might be biased against the ‘other’ generation and work to avoid making things worse.

Develop and foster a culture of learning and development. Get people of all ages to contribute and share their experience and knowledge for the benefit of your entire organisation.

And finally:

Employing, and working with different generations might feel like a recipe for disaster. With a little thought, the benefits of a multi-generational team outweigh potential problems.

So, when it comes to your next hire, think outside the age box to see how those benefits extend to all corners of your business.

At Artemis Clarke, our candidate focused and skill-centred approach to recruitment means we are experts at finding the perfect finance professionals for any business . If you’ve been struggling to replace an out-going CFO with someone who combines the forward-thinking approach of Gen Z with the experience and skills of a Gen Xer, get in touch. We’ll find you the right person to lead your finance team in no time at all.