Bridging the Generation Gap in the Workplace

Q. I work at a good company and we have a pretty big work group. Most of us get along well, and hang out at work and after work too. We are all about the same age, but there are some “senior” staff members too – not in level though they act it. They are just older and act like they manage us but they don’t. They are ok, but they don’t make it easy to work with them. Our manager just says to get along. It’s not that easy. Can we just tell them to stop trying to tell us how to do our work?

A. The good news is you work for a good company, and the people get along well, and are basically ok. Having this kind of baseline gives you a good chance to be successful in improving your work environment. It’s good to see that you would like to have a positive impact, and perhaps by sharing some information we can get your manager to take a more pro-active tack toward trying to help you all “just get along”.

As people work for more years (there are more workers over 75 than ever before), the range of generations in the work force will continue to expand. There has been a great deal written about the generational groupings of the ‘Traditionalists’ (born before 1945), ‘Baby Boomers’ (born 1946-1964), ‘Generation X’ (born 1965-1977), ‘Generation Y ‘or ‘Millennial’ (born 1978 – 1989), and the recently dubbed “youngest generation – Generation 9/11” (born after 1990). Each generation has different values, work ethics, internal drivers, levels of dedication to work, or a boss, and expectations of what a company or colleagues can give them.

Understanding each generation starts your challenge, and understanding how your own generation may be perceived by your colleagues in other generational groups might help your interaction, communication, and the type of response you give to feeling “over-managed”.

You are not alone in the realization that generational differences make it hard to get things done at work. 65% of employees believe this, and most employees feel the generation they are part of is viewed negatively. And though your manager would like everyone to just get along; what we see is that people need help figuring out how to do that. If you are a Boomer, you value work life balance, but may be disgruntled by how effectively Gen X’ers seem to make that work-life balance work.


Many organizations have started to work with managers to help employees work through these issues, particularly to try and eliminate the negative impact on productivity. I asked Kathy Greer, of Kathleen Greer Associates (KGA) an Employee Assistance Program services provider about the training her firm provides for managers challenged by multi-generational workforces. Kathy said, “the benefits provided by multigenerational workforces clearly outnumber the difficulties caused, and our work is designed to support company leaders to be effective “Gen-Mix Managers”.

All employees need to understand that “the work” is what unites them and that collaboration to get the work done is why they are part of the organization. Kathy helps leaders understand and communicate that talented people of all generations will only be willing to contribute to organizations or teams where their contributions are valued and that any recognition they receive has to be of value to them.

So your “more senior” colleagues may feel they can help you learn to be better corporate citizens, and since they value feedback, they might assume you do too. You might, if you are a Gen Y, or a millennial, value independence over feedback, so feeling over-managed by a colleague, might be enough to eliminate the development of strong positive relationships.

Greer suggests a few best practices including focusing on the meaning, purpose and mission of the organization and team; maximize everyone’s uniqueness – find what each person offers, what each wants to improve upon, and what each person might want to learn. Then create learn programs to support positive interaction across generational lines.


Rainmaker Thinking ( by Bruce Tulgan also offer great insights into the generations, and ways to maximize retention, and collaboration between generations.

So try to get your manager to help discuss generational differences, and the opportunities this can provide. If the manager chooses to stay in the “just get along” mode, you can begin informal conversation across the “great divides” with the most positive approaches possible.

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