By Phyllis Weiss Haserot
Unresolved intergenerational tensions can cause stress that decreases engagement, productivity, and, ultimately, profitability. The symptoms are likely to strike workers at all levels and management – up to the top. Following are five common symptoms and five approaches to avoiding potential stress.
Common Symptoms of Intergenerational Tension
You may experience or observe the following:
1. Using "the dodge"/avoidance tactic. As a manager, you mostly interact with or give responsibility to people similar to you.
2. Making excuses for people who aren't being as productive as they should be in order to avoid having to correct them; fear of being accused of discrimination.
3. Showing impatience with people who act differently; feeling intolerant or superior to compensate for your discomfort.
4. Feeling uncomfortable with your discomfort, blaming others for the discomfort or beating up on yourself.
5. Sounding awkward and second-guessing yourself as a leader.
These symptoms often appear as stress from dealing with other types of diversity as well.
Generations are defined by similar formative influences – social, cultural, political, and economic – that exist while individuals of particular birth cohorts are in their adolescent to early adult years. Given that premise, the approximate birth years for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are:
- Traditionalists: Born between1925 and 1942
- Baby Boomers: Born between 1943 and 1962
- Generation X: Born between 1963 and 1978
- Generation Y/Millennials: Born between 1979 and 1998
How to Alleviate or Prevent Stress and Resolve the Discomfort
While the following are simple solutions, they do require intention, patience, and accountability to yourself, your team, or to a coach:
1. Recognize each person as an individual, not a representative of a group, and develop individual relationships.
2. Avoid stereotyping and learn about the backgrounds and interests of individuals. You may find you have commonalities that had not been apparent initially. Listen and observe.
3. Learn the art of asking good questions in a nonthreatening and nonjudgmental way. Then listen. You'll be enlightened and grow more comfortable with differences, even if your opinions and attitudes differ.
4. As a manager, assign projects to people of different generations, giving them the opportunity to work together and teach each other without a strict age-related hierarchy. Be sure that the projects and interactions are perceived as meaningful. Allow relationships to develop and for people to sort out roles.
5. Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Stretch your comfort zone. (This may be difficult for Gen Y/Millennials who tend to be uncomfortable with ambiguity, but it gets easier with risking discomfort.) Monitor team accomplishments in which age diversity is encouraged and respected.
Which of these stress symptoms have you or your colleagues experienced? How are they currently being dealt with, or are they being ignored or denied? What have been successful techniques for getting beyond the discomfort and benefiting from differences? Please share your observations and thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Cross-Generational Conversation group on LinkedIn.