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Bridging The Generation Gap in The Workplace—A Lesson From The Queen


Posted by Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, Amy at Friday, 06/08/2012 2:19 pm
 
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Bridging the generation gap in the workplace can be especially hard for small businesses and family-owned business. Take the Royal Family for example. Talk about one tough family business. And talk about one large generation gap.

First, you have Queen Elizabeth II, who was born in 1926 and has been reigning now for 60 years. Then you have the popular young royals, Prince William (’82) and Harry (’84) who have been melting girls’ hearts since their mother tragically died in 1997.

When you think about, this family has come a long way since Princess Diana came into the picture and got the Queen’s knickers in a twist. Princess Diana was known for her compassion, style, charisma, charity work, and of course, her difficult marriage to the Prince of Wales. The fact that she refused to conform to her role infuriated the Queen.

These days, Princess Diana’s sons William and Harry seem to be following in her footsteps. The young royals are continuing the charity work started by their mother, they are undeniably stylish and charismatic as well as much more accessible to the public than the generations before them.

For instance, Katie Couric recently conducted several rare interviews with the princes for the ABC News special, “The Jubilee Queen With Katie Couric.” And the Queen seems to be okay with this.

So what has changed? Queen Elizabeth II is learning how to bridge the generation gap in her workplace (that is, of course, Buckingham Palace). Why is this so important?

Well for the royal family, it all comes down to approval ratings. But for your business, it comes down to productivity. One of the keys to productivity is a working atmosphere that is conducive to teamwork and hard work. That environment can be difficult to achieve when you are dealing with a multi-generational workplace.

Think that your business doesn’t suffer from a generational gap? Think again! Right now we are facing a new future in terms of demographics at work: we will soon have FIVE generations in the workplace at once. (In prior years, we’ve had three or four generations). With every generation comes difference in work behavior.

So let’s break it down. Here are the generations currently in the workplace and what you should do about them.

Generations In The Workplace:
•       Traditionalists 1922 – 1953:
•       Baby Boomers: 1943 – 1964
•       Generation X: 1965 – 1980
•       Generation Y: 1981– 2000

Step One: Recognize The Generation Gap

If you want to bridge the generation gap in the workplace, you first need to recognize it. After all, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Right?

So take a second and say to yourself, “My name is ______ and my company has a generation gap.”

There. Doesn’t that feel better? Now, you must accept that each generation is different. Each generation brings its own set of beliefs, values, culture, perspectives, likes, dislikes, skills/traits to the workplace.

One generation grew up listening to World War II reports on the radio while others grew up watching reality shows on MTV. One generation witnessed the civil rights movement while another witnessed the 9/11 Terrorist attack.

One generation is optimistic and team orientated while another generation is cynical and independent. The differences go on and on. And it will do your business a great service to recognize your generation gap so that you can reconcile it.

Step Two: Reconcile The Generation Gap

When it comes to bridging the generation gap in the workplace, it’s all about compromise.
How we conducted business 40 years ago isn’t the same as how we do it today (mostly thanks to technologies). For example, you don’t even need to be in the same room to have a board meeting. You can have teleconferences with colleagues who are halfway around the world either over the phone or by using Skype.

The lesson here is—just because you’ve always done something a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s the only way. Be selective about what you keep around. For example: your values. You should probably keep those. Or perhaps, you’ve always had a live person answer the phones. If that’s important to you and your business, then keep it that way. But maybe you could be a little more open to letting people work on different schedules.

The best way to reconcile the generation gap is to listen to the other generations. Don’t immediately dismiss their ideas because they’re young (or old).

This is especially true for family businesses. If junior has been working in the business for most of his life he will be in tuned with how the company should adapt to the changing business world. So listen to what they have to say!

Step 3: Regulate the Generation Gap

If you want to bridge the generation gap in the workplace, you need to watch how you manage the different generations.

Each generation has its own management style and it’s important to know how each generation is most effectively managed.

For example, the “old” management style was often harsh and combative. The “young” style is more indirect and conciliatory. For example, the younger generations feel disrespected when they are ordered, rather than asked, to do something. When this young worker questions their older manager about why she has to do a certain task instead of just putting her head down and getting it done, it can anger the manager. The manager’s reaction here is critical. If he brusquely says, “Just do it,” or rambles on about how things were done back in his day, he could easily—if unknowingly—widen the generation gap.

And that’s just one example! There are many important strategies for managing different generations, but we’ll talk about that at the end.

The important lesson here: A one size fits all management style won’t work in today’s business world if you want to retain key employees.

The Result:

By bridging the generation gap in your workplace, you’ll create an atmosphere that is conducive to productivity.

As for the royal family, the opinion polls say that Queen Elizabeth is more popular than she’s even been with approval ratings of over 80 percent!

Queen Elizabeth recognized what her subjects or the younger generation wanted and bridged the gap by allowing her grandsons to behave like their mother (well mostly).

Prince William and Prince Harry provide the glamour and accessibility that the people crave. In the end, the popularity of her grandsons reflects positively on the Queen.

It’s important to note that the Queen herself has not changed. Rather, she is embracing the younger generations and what they have to offer.

As a business owner or older manager, you do not have to change with the times. If you are a Baby Boomer, you do not have to start acting like a Generation Y. Actually, please don’t. You don’t have to act like a generation to understand them and work with them. In the end, you need to be like the Queen and allow your younger employees to work in an atmosphere that allows them to shine (as long as it this reflects positively on you and your business). After all, shouldn’t we all strive to be royalty?

Looking for some help with bridging the generation gap in your workplace? Integrity HR can provide training at your business to teach you how to manage the generation gap. This program defines the different generations, explains their characteristics/stereotypes and provides detailed solutions to help you bridge the generational gap. You’ll discover what each generation is interested in, what motivates them and what kind of feedback they are looking for. Contact us today to learn more and set up your training session.

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