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Bridging age barriers at the workplace

In a multi-generational team, it is important to cultivate a non-judgmental attitude for a healthy work culture

Every generation needs to feel included, seen and heard.(Pexels/Yan Krukov)

By Sonali Gupta

LAST PUBLISHED 27.04.2024  |  01:00 PM IST

Over the last year, a large part of my work with organisations has focused on finding effective ways to work with a multi-generational workforce. This continues to grow and gather prominence, primarily because this is the first time we have five generations working together, whether in office or in a hybrid format. This is across sectors, from health and education to media.

The workforce ranges from the silent generation (those born between 1928-45), baby boomers (1946-64), Generation X (1965-84) to millennials (1985-2000) and Gen Z (2001-20). Given this diversity, every generation needs to feel included, seen and heard.

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Understanding how each generation works can help avoid conflict and enhance productivity. What seems to come through while communicating with leaders and employees across generations is that there are differences in terms of how they view reinforcement and rewards.

Each generation has varied preferences when it comes to leadership and feedback as well as diverse perspectives on the idea of work-life balance.

Given that so much communication now happens on text and email and not face-to-face, there seem to be no clear rules of engagement or a common understanding across generations. As a result, there is miscommunication, a fear that nuances will be missed out and concerns about how a message is received or interpreted, which in turn can impact the trust between employees.

A senior leader in his 50s said his daughter told him that ending a text message with a full stop can be perceived as rude or passive aggressive. He had no idea how his messages were landing for his young employees.

Given this understanding, it has become imperative for businesses to create favourable conditions necessary for members across generations to thrive. Companies need to invest time, energy and resources and also understand that this will help both in the short and long run when it comes to employee retention, morale and satisfaction.

Choosing to mindfully spend energy on identifying how the workforce is spread across various generations is the first step, but while doing this, it is important not to fall for stereotypes associated with every generation. This exercise should be approached with openness and curiosity, where there is space for individuality and at the same time an understanding of preferred leadership styles, boundaries and clear communication.

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What I suggest to leaders and employees is to become aware of the implicit and explicit biases and stereotypes that exist in relation to employees belonging to different age groups and also in relation to gender.

Cultivating and communicating a non-judgmental attitude is crucial to creating a safe space. Choosing to be mindful and not comment on people’s choices when it comes to their sexuality, relationship status and decisions on whether or not to have a child is important. Younger clients in therapy often bring up how they feel judged when their older colleagues have rigid opinions and make insensitive comments about their lifestyle, social media posts, and even their financial decisions.

Working with a multi-generational team requires a manager to spend time getting to know their team, check in with them regularly and ensure that every member, irrespective of age, feels included and heard.

Investing in building a healthy work culture can go a long way towards making an organisation a psychologically safe space where employees can flourish and business can grow.

Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.

Also read: What productivity means to different generations