A No-Nonsense Guide to Leading Teams of All Ages

Let’s dive headfirst into the generational soup that’s currently simmering in workplaces around the globe. Today’s special? A closer look at how Gen Z navigates the waters with their Boomer colleagues. It’s a bit like trying to use a smartphone to fax a document – possible, but certainly not intuitive.

In the spirit of keeping things simple and straightforward, let me share a bit of personal insight. As a Boomer myself, I get it. I really do. When the wave of changes brought on by Gen Z first hit the workplace, my initial reaction was less than enthusiastic.

To be honest, I found myself thinking, “Why fix what isn’t broken?” This new generation seemed to challenge every norm we’d come to accept, and I’ll admit, I was quick to label them as just plain difficult.

But here’s the thing: over time, and with a nod to the principle of continuous improvement, I came to a realization. My opinions, however, firmly held, weren’t going to reshape the perspectives of an entire generation.

It was like trying to use a hammer on a screw; it just wasn’t the right tool for the job. So, I shifted gears. I started to approach these generational differences not as obstacles but as opportunities to learn, adapt, and, ultimately, improve the way we work together.

It wasn’t about conceding defeat; it was about embracing a more user-friendly approach to collaboration, one that acknowledges the unique contributions and preferences of each generation.

Top view of mixed race business team sitting at the table at loft office and working.

The Generational Gap: More Than Just Numbers

As Gen Z ( individuals up to age 26) makes their grand entrance into the workforce, they’re not just bringing in fresh faces but a whole new way of thinking about work. By 2025, they’re expected to make up 27% of the global workforce. But here’s the rub: a recent LSE report, backed by a comprehensive HR study, suggests that the transition might not be as smooth as we’d hoped.

The report throws up some intriguing numbers: 37% of Gen Z and 30% of Millennials are waving the ‘low productivity’ flag, a stark contrast to the 22% and 14% of Gen X and Baby Boomers. But before we jump to conclusions, it’s crucial to note that productivity dips were most pronounced among employees working with managers who were 12 years their senior or more. It seems age isn’t just a number; it’s a productivity factor.

The Two-Way Street of Workplace Harmony
Bryan Driscoll, an HR consultant, makes a compelling point: the issue isn’t one-sided. Both generations are dancing to a tune that neither fully understands. It’s not just about age gaps; it’s about differing attitudes towards work, evolving technologies, and communication styles that seem to be from different planets.

Boomers, with their job security and work-as-identity mindset, are from a world where loyalty and pride in one’s job were paramount. Contrast that with Gen Z, who’ve grown up in the shadow of economic instability and view work more as a means to an end than an end in itself.

Bridging the Gap: A Simple Guide

In the spirit of Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think” philosophy, let’s simplify this. Here’s a straightforward guide on how each generation can make the workplace more navigable:

For Gen Z:
Value Experience: Recognize the wealth of knowledge Boomers bring. Their stories aren’t just tales; they’re lessons.
Adapt Communication: Not everything can be solved with a text. Sometimes, a good old-fashioned conversation can clear the fog.
• Seek Purpose, But Respect Structure: Understand that while seeking purpose is noble, respecting existing structures is wise.

For Boomers:
• Embrace Change: The digital world is here to stay. Embracing it can lead to new discoveries and efficiencies.
• Offer Autonomy: Understand that Gen Z values autonomy and purpose. Guide them, but let them navigate.
• Acknowledge Efforts: A little recognition goes a long way. It’s not about constant praise but about acknowledging contributions.

Generational friction in the workplace isn’t a new headline; it’s as timeless as the office coffee pot. Every generation brings its own flavor to the workplace, stirring up a blend of fresh ideas, new work styles, and, yes, a dash of tension with the established norms.

But here’s a nugget of truth: getting worked up over generational differences is about as useful as trying to teach a fish to tap dance. It’s an exercise in futility.

Take it from a Boomer who’s been around the block a few times: our steadfast dedication to the job and our fondness for good old face-to-face chats are just echoes of the era we grew up in, much like Gen Z’s digital prowess and their quest for a balanced life echo theirs. Each generation is molded by the world they come of age in, and there’s no right or wrong about it, just different.

So, before you let out a sigh at a Boomer’s cautious approach to the latest app or a Gen Z’s all-in embrace of remote work, hit the pause button.

Frustration is like a speed bump on the road to productivity and harmony. You can’t rewind the clock on the experiences that shaped another generation, but you can definitely choose how you engage with them.

Step one? Embrace a mindset of acceptance. Think of it as swapping out your old, scratched-up glasses for a brand-new pair. Suddenly, you see that a variety of perspectives isn’t a hurdle; it’s your secret weapon.

From there, it’s about building bridges, not walls. Swap judgment for curiosity questions for assumptions, and watch as those generational gaps start to look more like stepping stones.

This isn’t about agreeing with every new trend or ditching your tried-and-true methods. It’s about creating a space where respect is the name of the game and communication is the MVP. By doing this, we’re not just navigating through a generational maze; we’re laying down the bricks for a more inclusive, dynamic, and, let’s face it, more interesting workplace.

And for my fellow Boomers and the vibrant Gen Z alike, here’s a thought: let’s not make this harder than it needs to be.

The workplace is a melting pot of ideas, experiences, and, yes, ages. By leaning into this diversity, we’re not just ticking a box; we’re unlocking a treasure trove of innovation, resilience, and collective wisdom.

So, let’s roll up our sleeves and dive into this together, shall we? After all, in the grand tapestry of the workplace, every thread—no matter its color or texture—plays a crucial part.

Wrapping Up: Let’s Get on the Same Page

The mix-and-match of generations in the workplace isn’t just a phase; it’s the new normal. And with this setup comes both the tricky bits and the golden opportunities to shake up how we team up and get things done.

By giving a nod to what each age group brings to the table, we can jazz up our workplace to be more vibrant, welcoming, and on its A-game.

Here’s the scoop: it’s not about everyone marching to the beat of the same drum. It’s more about weaving together a rich tapestry of viewpoints that can drive our collective ship forward.

So, let’s not settle for merely sharing the same space; let’s really gel, tapping into the diverse strengths across generations to craft a workspace that’s buzzing with innovation, resilience, and inclusivity. Because when it comes down to it, every piece of the puzzle is key.