‘OK Boomer’: Harnessing generational differences as a superpower

Modern workplaces are a melting pot of different generations and perspectives. With Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z all collaborating in the same post-Covid working environment, business culture has had to evolve significantly over recent years.

In such a shifting landscape, organisations that understand how to fully leverage the potential of employees of all ages will have the competitive edge over those who operate with a more conventional outlook.

While this can be a difficult task, it is dangerous to think of different generations as distinct groups with identifiable strengths and weaknesses. For fast-growth companies that regularly increase their headcount and acquire new businesses, understanding how to create a strong culture that is inclusive of all ages and perspectives can help drive growth. So, what do businesses need to consider when managing a multi-generational workforce?

Boomers Vs Gen Z?

It is vital for HR leaders to make efforts to understand how context shapes each generation when building a culture, because this ultimately accounts for the majority of differences in ways of working. While no two people share the same experience, each generational group has been influenced by a combination of events and cultural phenomena unique to the time in which they grew up. Hence there is potentially a wide spectrum of perspectives to consider when making any decision, making it extremely challenging to ensure everyone remains aligned.

It’s often the case that common experiences that exist outside the workplace can draw people together. For example, those with caring responsibilities, like parents, often have more in common with other carers than people of the same generation. If workplaces can identify these traits and work out how best to get people with shared experiences working in harmony, then they are on the road to building a positive culture.

One way to do this is to hold work functions that encourage employees to socialise with their colleagues in a way that’s not directly work related. Not only will this help to boost morale, but it also creates opportunities for people to identify common interests with others that could also end up making them happier at work.

At Gravita, we do not talk about the staff and the partners, but instead refer to each other as colleagues. This might seem trivial, but these small things are vital when building cohesion across the company – and across generations.

“Can everyone see my screen?”

Technology is often seen as a sticking point between generations, revealing different ways of working and attitudes that can cause problems if not addressed. Many of the digital tools we use in the workplace today have been introduced over the last decade or so and digitally literate younger generations are accustomed to working with rapidly evolving systems and new devices.

Yet this can be misleading. It’s often assumed that people of older generations will struggle more with adapting, although if we look at how much the world has changed over the course of their lives, it suggests that they’re actually pretty well equipped to accept change. It’s wise not to make assumptions – for example, don’t dumb down training for Boomers.

An influential aspects of technological change is the current advancement of AI tools in the workplace. We’re witnessing how rapidly machine learning is transforming the world around us and it seems that all people, regardless of their generation, are having to find ways to adapt and keep up. Today, AI solutions are being developed that have the potential to mitigate biases and, as a result, enable more diverse and inclusive workplaces. For example, employees can use chatbots to ask potentially polemic questions without fear of judgement and HR leaders are able to craft script templates for difficult conversations that comply with UK law.

Despite this, business leaders should still be aware that not everyone just ‘gets it’. Whether it's group training, tutorials or one-on-one sessions, certain employees may need additional support to ensure there is a unified understanding running throughout the company, regardless of their age and background. We’ve come a long way since the rapid switch to remote working as the pandemic took hold, but consistent communication helps to refresh memories and keep employees on the same page.

Additionally, businesses can encourage cross-generational collaboration on projects where younger employees can learn from their more experienced colleagues and vice versa. Everyone has a unique outlook to share and employees should be able to leverage the knowledge of their colleagues, regardless of age. Often, these are the best learning opportunities.

Listen to lead

Some studies have demonstrated that older-sounding speech triggers stereotypical responses from young people. This potentially results in younger employees in the workforce dumbing down their language when speaking to those who are older, which creates a situation where no one wins. This will inhibit the output from older employees and entrench a subconscious power imbalance between those of different age groups.

Ultimately, the companies with the most diverse workforce will prove the most successful, particularly as they scale. The key is knowing how to get the best out of everyone. No one wants to work in a fractured workplace, and maintaining a strong culture has become even more challenging in a remote or hybrid working environment. No matter what generation they’re from or what stage of life they are at, leadership must be willing to listen to employees and implement strategies that foster a collaborative and united environment.