There are currently five different generations making up the workforce: a small number of Silent Generation, the Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z, there are varied understandings of what makes up “work,” ranging from different understandings of time and flexibility, technology, professionalism, time management, productivity, and even how an employee can be promoted. Within and between generations, I often hear assumptions and judgments that exist based on a lack of understanding or lack of empathy for the other generation’s awareness, understanding, or knowledge about the other’s experiences. As a result, you can imagine this creates a challenge for managers and leaders as well as individual contributors because the less we know about a particular group, the more challenges can present themselves.
These misunderstandings and misconceptions can lead to barriers as well as challenges when diverse teams are collaborating or working toward a deliverable because the lack of understanding is often because of our unconscious bias. When we’re thinking about generations in the workplace, one of the types of bias we need to be cognizant of is related to ageism. If you’d like to read more about ageism in the workplace, check out this blog post. It’s important to challenge our assumptions about different generations because when we leave our bias unchecked, we can perpetuate harm.
One of the ways we can mitigate our generational bias is by starting to get curious about the differences between generations, whether it be language/terminology definitions or understanding of how to be authentic at work, how to support inclusion at work, or even advocating for inclusion from multiple perspectives. We can try to understand a new perspective without judgment and be open to calling in versus calling out when mistakes are made while giving grace in situations that deserve it.
Secondly, we can start (or continue) to think about how our own socialization or upbringing contributed to the way we perceive other generations and their work, workflow, or productivity. We can commit to an ongoing learning plan by taking different courses to increase our understanding of microaggressions and unconscious bias and use ongoing learning as a way to reflect on our own experiences, which may be vastly different than someone else’s.
Thirdly, we can equip ourselves with the tools to support folks across generational differences and meet individuals where they are at in their journey or their unique work needs. We can start by using the learnings mentioned in the second tip and applying them. In our workplace interactions, one of the more common spaces for misunderstanding and miscommunication is regarding language, definitions, or terms. Think about how often the center of our interactions is language, and we know some language/questions/requests can be rooted in our assumptions about the various generations, whether it be understanding of technology due to age, their awareness of diversity, or inclusion, and sometimes even the nicknames we call people from different generations. These are important nuances to understand as we work towards supporting a multigenerational team and fostering an inclusive workplace.
Moving forward, we can ask ourselves how we can mitigate our unconscious biases when it comes to the different generations and apply strategies such as calling in versus calling out to create a psychologically safe environment for feedback. What we want to avoid is creating a culture of “my generation had it worse” because that is not a productive way to cultivate inclusion in the workplace. We want to foster a space for understanding, empathy, and psychological safety in order to create inclusive environments for each other at work (and beyond).
If you want to learn more, please join us in February 2023 for our Generational Bias in the Workplace Webinar.