Age diversity has become an unescapable reality for most organisations. It’s become very common to have up to 4 generations, all very different and unique, present in an organisation. As an administrative professional, it’s important that you understand the differences to develop great working relationships with colleagues and clients from different generation groups.
Let’s start with the 4 different generations that you will find in the workplace. There are the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1976), Generation Y (born 1977-1997) and Generation Z (born after 1997).
To understand age diversity in the workplace, it’s important to understand each of these mentioned generations.
Baby boomers have been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. Simply put, they have experience so you need to respect them for that as you can learn a great deal from them. Often seen as the generation that has challenged the status quo, baby boomers are generally loyal individuals with unlimited optimism, competitive, driven and hard working. Baby boomers subscribe to the theory that the longer and harder you work, the further you will get in your career. They are traditionally team-oriented, more formal in their approach and generally prefer a hierarchal structure. These individuals generally prefer face-to-face conversations where they can give you (and you can give them) full attention. Don’t be surprised if they bombard you with a lot of questions as they want to know all the ins and outs of any topic.
Generation Xers tend to be more ethnically diverse and often better educated than baby boomers. Generation Xers are generally individualistic individuals who appreciate having fun in the workplace. They tend to be more independent than baby boomers in making work decisions and are tech-savvy. Due to their individualistic nature, they tend to dislike being micro-managed and want space to make decisions. Communication with a Generation Xer must be clear, concise and to the point to avoid frustrating them.
Also known as millennials, this generation has had access to technology such as cell phones and computers all their lives so they’re often very tech savvy. Millennials generally share similar traits to their Generation X counterparts but are often less direct. These individuals are often eager to learn, favour teamwork and often have high esteem. Millennials want to feel like they’re making a difference so if you’re working with them, be sure to include them and ask their opinion on matters. Traditionally, they want instant gratification and get irritable if they don’t get timely feedback on any issues or their work performance. Due to their vast tech skills, millennials generally prefer using less direct communication methods such as text messaging, emails and Skype.
The newest entrant to the modern workforce. Geneneration Z doesn’t regard the internet and social media as just technology, they regard as a basic human need like eating and sleeping. Despite the perception that Gen Z individuals are glued to technology, they actually prefer communicating face-to-face. This might seem odd but they tend to value genuine relationships. Whilst a lot of Generation Z individuals tend to be more reserved and cautious than other generations, they’re also often loyal, compassionate, thoughtful and determined individuals who want to make a difference. It’s important to note that their attention span is often shorter than other generations, so the best way to work with a Gen Z individual is to provide them with bite-size chunks of information about a topic. Gen Z tend to be very independent and practical workers and often great multitaskers, so don’t underestimate their ability to get work done on time.
Bridging the Gap in Age Diversity:
Age diversity can actually be a huge advantage for businesses as different thoughts and ideas can be generated and applied. If you want to have a good working relationship with your colleagues try to understand their preferences and be willing to compromise. Not only will this prevent possible misunderstandings, but it will also strengthen your working relationship and your own workplace productivity. It’s important to respect colleagues from different generations as you can learn valuable lessons from them – whether they are younger or older than you.
Whatever your current position is in your organisation, you can be an advocate for bridging the gap in age diversity. Simply being aware of the differences between generations and identifying who fits where is a great start. Talk to your peers about any of these differences, especially if it is something that is unknown or misunderstood. Going out of your way to learn about the generation differences from a younger or older co-worker will also build mutual respect. Besides, you could even learn a thing or two from each other and gain extra knowledge and skills in the process!
Don’t forget that People are still Individuals
Whilst there are definite differences between the generations, it’s important to realise that each generation has immense value to add. As with all things, it’s very important to remember that even though there are generational differences, automatically stereotyping a colleague based on his or her age is never the answer. Treat and respect your colleagues equally and through open and honest communication and a willingness to really listen to each other, only great things will happen and embracing your company’s age diversity can provide a great opportunity for you to grow not just in your career but also as an individual.
If you want to learn more about Age Diversity in the Workplace then register for our 17th annual Professional Administrators and Secretaries Conference South Africa (PACSA) taking place at Sun City on 31 July – 2 August 2019. This topic will be included along with many other amazing ones at South Africa’s premier secretaries and administrators event.