Bridging the generational gap in the workplace

Updated on 16 July 2014

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Bridging the generational gap in the workplace


Whether in the workplace or home, communicating, relating to and respecting one another despite vast age differences requires patience, compromise, communication, trust and commitment.

A recent Ernst & Young survey conducted in America asked professionals from the three ‘working’ generations what their perceptions were of the other generations they worked with. Some interesting and notable differences discovered are:

  • Baby boomers (people born between mid 1940’s and mid 1960’s) were found to be the most cost-effective and hard-working, yet the least entrepreneurial.
  • Generation X (people born between mid 1960’s and early 1980’s) were found to be great team players with strong entrepreneurial and problem solving skills but poorly represented at executive level.
  • Generation Y (people born between early 1980’s and mid 1990’s) were found to be the most tech-savvy but the most difficult to work with.
  • Generation Z (people born after 1995) are highly connected, having had lifelong use of communication and media technology like the World Wide Web, instant messaging, text messaging, MP3 players, and mobile phones, earning them the nickname “digital natives”.

Although younger generations may be perceived unfavourably from these results in terms of business thinking, it is important to note that their unique attitude and preferred way of work is not yet accommodated for in most businesses.

To address this, businesses need to keep the values of the previous generations alive by instilling their hard-working loyal culture in the younger generation through mentorship, coaching programmes and reverse mentoring.

” The timeframe in which new recruits feel competent and comfortable is directly linked to how quickly they are productive”

The technology divide

More than a decade ago, General Electric chief executive Jack Welch popularised ‘reverse monitoring’ when he instructed his top executives to identify younger employees below them to teach them how to use the Internet.

The Internet is not as new and intimidating today but technology that is second nature to younger generations – like Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, mobile applications and cloud computing – may be.

This is of particular importance when considering that Generation Z are coming of working age. While not much is known of their working behaviour yet, all signs suggest that they will be even more technologically sophisticated and Internet savvy than Generation Y.

For organisations introducing new employees, the timeframe in which new recruits feel competent and comfortable is directly linked to how quickly they are productive.

The process by which a new recruit becomes skilled, knowledgeable and comfortable within their new place of work in order to be productive is called onboarding which typically includes meetings, presentations, lectures, videos, printed communication and computer-based induction. Job shadowing and mentorship programmes are fast becoming vital components of effective onboarding.

Job shadowing allows new staff to experience the workplace and positional responsibilities by observing, learning and asking questions. Older staff are also given an opportunity to use their vast knowledge and experience in a way that keeps them relevant and engaged in the workplace.

Knowing how to identify and utilise the unique strengths of each generation in your workforce in a way that benefits the business is critical in today’s competitive ever-changing business landscape.

Successfully bridging the generation gap will no doubt have positive effect on performance and productivity.

About the author: Kay Vittee is the CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions (Pty) Ltd one of South Africa’s leading staffing solutions provider. She’s a business woman holding a Masters in Business Administration, a B.Com (Banking and Economics) and various other financial and marketing qualifications. Kay’s business acumen and success have made her a sought after speaker and thought leader.

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