How Generation Gaps Work

Bridging Generation Gaps

In the ideal intergenerational workplace, every team member brings the best qualities of his or her generation to increase overall productivity, improve creativity and boost morale. While it's too much to expect generation gaps to close overnight, there are some proven managerial techniques for building bridges across the generational divide.

One proven method is to launch official mentoring programs across the generations [source: Williams]. Both Baby Boomers and Generation Y put a high value on relationships, which is not surprising, since most Gen Yers are sons and daughters of "helicopter parent" Boomers. Boomers want the team to feel like a "family" and Generation Y wants to be surrounded by "friends." By becoming a mentor, the Boomer can capitalize on her experience (something she prizes) while the Gen Yer can get constant feedback about his ideas from someone he trusts (something he prizes).

A successful intergenerational workplace also needs to strike a balance between structure and independence. A clear leadership structure will satisfy the old-school expectations of the Veterans and Boomers while giving the Gen Xers and Yers a sense of authority they secretly crave. After that leadership structure is in place, break down all barriers of accessibility [source: Acebel Rousseau]. Younger generations need continuous feedback from their managers and want to know that they can knock on the CEO's door if they have a question.

Once a younger worker has been given an assignment, that worker should have the freedom and independence to work on it on his or her own time. Since younger workers crave feedback, older managers can be confident that they'll get updates from the workers soon enough.

One general rule for bridging generation gaps in the workplace is to drop the old rules altogether. Older workers especially need to forget about the established rules of communications that were seemingly written in stone: "Always return a phone call." "Always send a thank you note." "Always be available for the boss." Don't be offended when a co-worker breaks one of these "rules," because chances are he or she didn't know the rule existed [source: D'Adonno].

Along those same lines, get over the idea of fairness. A lot of older workers complain that the younger generations are coddled and haven't "paid their dues." Fairness is not as important as building successful workplace relationships in which everybody does his or her job better [source: Bloomberg Businessweek].

In the end, building a solid bridge requires that both sides meet each other halfway. If the older worker prefers phone calls and the younger workers texts, then compromise over e-mail. If the Boomer loves daily meetings and the Gen Yer likes to work from home three days a week, then sign up for Web conferencing. When everybody gets something he or she wants, everybody wins.

For lots more information on workplace dynamics, head to the links below.

Related Articles


  • Acebel Rousseau, Millie. Miami Herald. "Closing the workplace generational gap." February 28, 2008 wor.html#ixzz1Pfj1SD00
  • Bloomberg Businessweek. "Bridging the Generation Gap." September 17, 2007
  • D'Adonno, Beth. Today's Officer. "Bridging the Generation Gap." September 2004
  • Gurchiek, Kathy. Society for Human Resource Management. "Gen Y Poses Unique Management Challenges." November 10, 2009
  • Hammill, Greg. FDU Magazine. "Mixing and Managing Four Generations of Employees." Winter/Spring 2005
  • Howe, Neil and Strauss, William. The Atlantic. "The New Generation Gap." December 1992
  • Shrestha, Laura B. CRS Report for Congress. "Life Expectancy in the United States." August 16, 2006
  • Williams, Ray. Psychology Today. "Why Are You Not Like Me? The Generational Gap in the Workplace." September 8, 2009
  • World Bank. "Life expectancy"