Bridging the Age Gap
The importance of age is an evolving dynamic in society- while some cultures continue to value the number as a testament to knowledge and wisdom, and hence respect, others place increased emphasis on character. A reflection of the world in large, the corporate space contains a myriad of differing identities, differing backgrounds, and also, differing ages. The synergy within companies is dependent on the harmony between diverse people, and boils down to conversations, communication efficiencies, and everyday interactions. Contrast in age between employees is an interesting facet in the dynamics of work, as millennials, gen-Xers, and baby boomers work together. Whether it is in your first job ever during high school, or in the new role you passionately earn straight out of college, you are bound to work with someone significantly older than you. While this age gap may inhibit the understanding between you two, it can also be leveraged and celebrated. Let us explore two time-tested and corroborated tips on working well with someone farther along in the journey of life…
Make an effort to empathize
On the neurological level, empathy is when two parts of the brain work together: the emotional center perceives others’ feelings and the cognitive center interprets why they are feeling this way and how we can be of support. When it relates to age, understanding the considerable priorities a fellow employee may have can heighten connectivity. For example, a person in their 20s may be evaluating what direction they want to take in life while a person in their 40s may be approaching a more reflective stage, trying to understand how they are doing in comparison to their peers. Grasping the motivations of those you work with provides much clarity in how to communicate and relate on the interpersonal level. Differences in skill sets are also worth considering.The difference in technological savviness between younger and older workers is a prime example. Taking into account that an older coworker may not be as well-versed in this space, you can either try to teach and support them. On the flip side, be absorbent of lessons from older employees – whether this be regarding their fine-tuned presentation skills or their general insight on how to understand market patterns over time. Both players should form a symbiosis, discovering commonalities, but also leveraging differences. Be humble, confident, and curious.
Navigate with openness
One of the most powerful tools to bridging distance between generations is communicating thoroughly with honesty and respect, especially if you are a designated leader. Instead of entering with an aspirational plan to revamp everything, recognize that true balance exists in compromise. Create discussion – a good question to ask team members is: What is one thing you don’t want to see change and what’s one thing you think needs to change? The nuances also matter- understanding that older employees may have a more demanding family life allows for better time management and work such that the hours don’t run too late. Furthermore, creating a comfortable environment in meetings may entail some general chit chat before diving straight into the agenda, as directness does vary amongst generations.
The collaboration of these two approaches can birth healthy and enjoyable relationships between employees in different stages of life. Generational diversity can spark much creativity and innovation when handled strategically. Remember, in the end, we all want to do a good job and deliver well, and in the very end, everyone is simply human.