This article was based on episode 113 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get 30% off Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join.
Loneliness, social isolation, and its corresponding depression used to be primarily associated with the elderly. Around 2012, research reported an abrupt shift as similar loneliness issues began to show up with the youngest generations. This became known as the “social isolation epidemic”.
Hayim Herring, a rabbi and Ph.D. in Organization and Management, correlates this data to a breakdown in conversations associated with smartphone use, as well as marketing attempts to label and separate generations. Stereotypes often keep us from engaging and respecting each other’s contributions and abilities, weakening intergenerational conversations and reducing opportunities for learning.
After interviewing boomers and millennials about their feelings of each other for his recent book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide, Hayim shares his findings from this societal schism, explaining what these damaging stereotypes are, and offering steps for managers to take in the workplace to proactively cultivate a flourishing intergenerational environment.
Millenials on Boomers
When Hayim asked Millennials the first thing that came to mind when they heard the word “Boomer”, they replied that “they are work obsessed, goal driven, tough and tenacious. They can't have fun during life but just wait to retire. They’re entitled; just because somebody has more gray hair doesn't mean they should automatically be in charge of a project.”
Boomers on Millenials
When Herring asked Boomers the same question about Millennials, they said that “all they want to do is have fun now; they don't have the same sort of tenacity that we did. They're apathetic, snowflakes, with no grit. They're so entitled; no, you can't be CEO on your second day of the job, especially because you're likely to be leaving probably six months to a year from now.”
Hayim also explains the Gen Z “always on” generation. Born into a post-social media revolution, Gen Z grew up in the shadow of the 2008 economic crash and generally reports more willingness to collaborate and do what is necessary to succeed. As his interviews conveyed, while a Millennial might think of their job as “you’re lucky to have me”, Gen Z will more likely think, “just be careful Millennial, because if you don't pull your weight, I'm going to just roll over you.”
With all of this generational acrimony, coupled with a decrease in meaningful dialogue in ordinary life between age cohorts, it’s no surprise we struggle to build authentic relationships outside our age cohorts. Managers must bring people together to see beyond the labels and enjoy the value and depth in each individual’s perspective and life experience.
Hayim bluntly reminds us that just putting people of different ages together on a team does not make it a successful intergenerational workplace. It takes intention to truly understand generational differences so that the work environment meets the needs of each.
IDEAS FOR CREATING INTERGENERATIONAL COHESION IN THE WORKPLACE
Mix-up the role assignments. Assign people from different generations different roles than usual. This helps people gain empathy by understanding what various tasks and responsibilities entail. While it may be uncomfortable for some people at first, they will benefit from experiencing what happens when they change roles.
Assign by ability, not routine. Question your assumptions about who should do what. Start with a small task and let skill, not only experience, determine who takes the lead.
Rethink benefits by generation. Millennials are more concerned about college debt, wellness initiatives, and flexibility options. Gen-Z looks for more financial guidance, work/life blend, 401k match, and wellness. Say goodbye to a one-size-fits-all benefits package and instead, learn what matters to each generation. Then offer benefits that accommodate different groups of people.
Take time to get to really know what your employees need. Become aware of the many things outside of work that affect people of each generation. Think creatively about how to provide value to your employees. For example, bring a chiropractor into the office (once we can all return to offices!) or offer a workshop on how to complete living wills.
In addition to office intergenerational work, one can build intergenerational connections in their non-work lives. Hayim suggests asking someone out for a cup of (virtual) coffee or a walk, or volunteering outside of the workplace with people outside your age cohort.
BECOME A PERENNIAL
Each generation offers a fresh, new perspective to the mix, yet some general rhythms in life never change. The task of every generation, says Hayim, is to be a “Perennial”; holding onto the things that are good and relinquishing the values and practices that have restrained us. The only way to do this effectively is to open ourselves up to each other, learning the wisdom and ideas from each generation and breaking down the boundaries that divide us. While things do change, as Herring reminds us, wellbeing, purpose, meaning, and social connections never go out of style.
KEEP UP WITH HAYIM
Get 30% off Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at www.themodernmanager.com/join.
This article was based on episode 113 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.