Closing the Generational Gap in the Workplace

Why is it that each generation feels the need to belittle the next?

The other day, I saw a video on Facebook that mocked the work habits and commitment of the Millennial generation. Though it appeared to be a “comedy” and generated a chuckle, underneath the script was a thread of truth, or at least truth in perception. I shared it with my team, and stepping back to watch it brought me back to my twenties when I received the same type of “pseudo” humor about the slacker, worthlessness of my generation – Generation X.

I started my first business because of the articles and rhetoric being put into the media about the slacker generation. I had just come back from Australia as a Rotary Scholar, earning my graduate diploma in corporate graphics and serving as an ambassador of the United States to other Australian Rotary clubs. Slacker? Not me! I graduated Summa Cum Laude from college with a minor in Italian language, worked 40+ hours a week, supported myself and did not mooch off my parents, all at the tender age of 23. How dare they call me a slacker! So I started a magazine called Hinge. My goal was to change the name of my generation from Generation X to the Hinge generation, a group that would bridge the Baby Boomers and Gen Y (now known as the Millennials). I worked with a friend at the time who was an editor, and together we created a black and white printed zine, printed on hemp paper no less, that we distributed by foot to coffee shops, newsstands and record stores like Tower Records. Yes, I am dating myself, but that was how it was done then! We gathered articles, creative writing, poems, art, Op Eds and more, only from contributors born into Gen X. It was a great magazine and a great first business. Though it failed and I declared bankruptcy at age 25, it started my love, passion and interest in entrepreneurship, generations, generational marketing and more.

A year ago, I had the opportunity to increase my staff and hire a Millennial, and I can tell you she is the complete opposite of the lazy, clueless individuals featured in that video. I know a lot of really amazing, talented people in their 20’s and 30’s who make me look like, yes, a slacker (and believe me, I’m not!) Not only that, but I continue to learn so much from them everyday, opening my eyes to a fresh new perspective that without them I would be blind to.

Today, I have created a course, called Engage Every Age, on generational marketing together with Anne Loehr, another amazing, diehard Gen Xer. We feel that generationally focused messaging, imagery and positioning will be the way marketing is done in the future, and many are just too self focused to currently see it.

Open your mind and take in all that different generations have to give, from Traditionalists to Baby Boomers to Gen Xers and Millennials. It will improve your life, your relationships and your business in the long run.

Here are a few tips to help you close the generational gap and engage with each generation:

  • Communicate! Set expectations upfront about what is appropriate for both internal and external communications. Each generation holds different ideas about what forms of communication are appropriate when it comes to email, instant messaging, and face-to-face conversation. Each generation also has specific words that resonate with them. Learn the words that work for the generation you are trying to communicate with. Visit
  • Show respect! Respect different values and keep an open mind. Each generation has different values and beliefs. You may not understand them, but you need to respect and accept them in order to work well with other groups of people.
  • Be willing. You have to be willing to listen and learn from other generations. Being aware and actively listening to others will result in less disputes and miscommunications, both at work and in your personal life. Just because we did something one way does not mean that it is the best way to do it in the future, whatever it may be.
  • Engage. Create opportunities for participation. Everyone wants to feel included and heard. Be sure to ask others for their opinions in meetings and invite people of other generations to speak up. Foster collaboration by creating a safe, nonjudgmental space for brainstorming, where everyone is heard equally.
  • Celebrate. Recognize achievement at all levels. Identify what motivates each generation and adjust your approach accordingly. Different groups of people are motivated by different factors, such as opportunities for advancement, personal development, flexibility, or higher purpose. There is no “one size fits all” method.
  • Set parameters. Get on the same page regarding formality. Generally speaking, older generations are accustomed to a more formal workplace, where business suits and face-to-face meetings are the norm. Younger generations are more likely to have experienced informality in the workplace, where jeans and email are appropriate and expected. Address the workplace culture and expectations upfront so that everyone has the same understanding.

Working alongside and embracing people of different generations has so many benefits, both in the workplace and in your personal life. People of different age groups bring something new to the table, and offer a fresh perspective or lens that you haven’t considered before. With four different generations currently in the U.S. workforce, learning to work with different generations is something we will all have to do.

What do you think about generational gap that exists today? How can we close the gap and stop future generations from receiving the same treatment? What are other tips that you follow or have seen others use to better work with people of different generations? Tell us what you think about this topic below!