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Generation X and Millennials: Bridging Generational Gaps in the Workplace

You've probably heard of Millennials, that much-maligned generation of people born between 1981 and 1996. According to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau data, Millennials made up the largest share of the U.S. population at 17 percent at that time, just ahead of their direct predecessors Generation X at 15.6 percent, and their numbers are increasing within the workforce.

Canada is experiencing the same population patterns, as well as the largest proportion of working-age people among G7 nations at 66.5 percent. Gen Xers and Millennials vastly dominate this workforce.

This mix of age groups can cause issues for business leaders as they try to navigate the wants, needs, and expectations of two very distinct groups. Motivating and communicating with both generations can also be challenging.

But are these two groups that different? After all, most people value the same things in the workplace: security, safety, advancement, compensation, and more. They both tend to view leaders as equals (Millennials) or arbiters (Gen X) instead of authority figures.

Although each group is comfortable with modern technology, Gen X had to learn and adapt more at an older age, whereas Millennials were exposed to technology at a much younger age.

There are also some distinct differences between these two groups. Gen Xers are willing to work in teams but also value autonomy and the freedom to work independently. Millennials, by contrast, seem to prefer working in teams and rely on frequent feedback and ongoing support from their teammates.

Another interesting aspect is the working dynamic between the two groups. Years ago, roles between generations were clear cut: the older group were the mentors who taught the apprentices that made up the younger group. With the advent of advanced technology and information available at the tap of a button, the playing field is more level.

You might think that this equity would create a harmonious workplace. However, differing work styles and stereotypes based on media misconceptions can impact trust between the two groups and hamper your desire to create an environment of collaboration.  

Striking a balance between Millennials and Gen Xers can be difficult for company leaders who want to keep everyone motivated, productive, and happy. The good news is that by recognizing their similarities and differences, you can develop strategies that will allow you to communicate effectively with your mix-generation workforce while building trust and breaking down barriers.

Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:

  • Facilitate mentorship programs: Allow the best of each group to shine through by facilitating a mentorship program that pairs a Gen Xer with a Millennial. The Gen X mentor can help their younger protégé hone soft skills that generally come with time, such as emotional intelligence. The Millennial can then take on the mentorship role and help the Gen Xer understand how to leverage software that can help them become more efficient and productive. This exchange of information will foster trust and collaboration.

  • Foster social inclusivity: Social events are great ways to get people together in a relaxed, casual atmosphere. However, different generations might be in different chapters of their lives. For example, family picnics with employee's children or events with their spouses might work well for Gen Xers, but not for single or childless Millennials. Conversely, Millennials might enjoy an evening at a nightclub or sports that involve intense physical activity. In this case, the RSVPs from Gen Xers might be low in number. You can run a poll to see what kind of activities interest your employees to help you decide which type of events to run. 

As we move further into this decade, another group will be starting their careers – Generation Z. Considered to include anyone born after 1996, Gen Z has never known a world without the Internet, cell phones, or home computers. They also grew up in a world focused on workplace diversity and gender equity, and expect these values to be reflected wherever they work.

The emergence of Gen Z into the workplace will offer us another opportunity to foster collaboration with a whole new group and again bridge generational divides to the betterment of our bottom lines and company culture.