Coaching Clients to Thrive in a Multi-Generational Workplace

multi-generation workplace

The workplace is constantly evolving. Many people tend to think of new technology as being the driver of change and innovation. However, in the multi-generational workplace of 2020, savvy employers are benefiting by having learned how to drive progress and success by cultivating a collaborative culture that engages the strengths  of each generation.

The demographics in today’s workplace look like this:

  • Baby Boomers (age: 55-75)

Career Stage: nearing retirement

  • Gen X (age: 40-54)

Career Stage: mid-career

  • Gen Y, also known as Millennials (age: 25-39)

Career Stage: early-mid career

  • Gen Z (age: up to 24)

Career Stage: launching career

That’s right — there are FOUR generations populating our workplaces, each one associated with differing values, communication styles, work ethics, and, of course, stereotypes. In some cases — primarily family-run business — there may even be five generations working side-by-side as the youngest of “the Silent Generation” would now be in their mid-to-late seventies.

Let’s look more closely at this generational mash-up to try and understand what the implications are for workers and career service providers. Please note that the following attributes are considered generally common within the specific generation, but by no means are they applicable to every individual.

Baby Boomers are optimistic, have a strong work ethic, prefer one-on-one communications, and enjoy mentoring and sharing their knowledge. They value social responsibility and the benefits provided by an employer.

Gen X are well-educated, self-reliant, innovative, task-oriented, and strongly focused on achieving a healthy work-life balance. Email and text messaging are their preferred forms of communication. They’re versatile and can relate to both Baby Boomers and Gen Y.

Gen Y (Millennials) are realistic, goal-focused, and self-directed multi-taskers. They prefer texting and social media as forms of communication. They welcome feedback and want it to be in-the-moment.

Gen Z value uniqueness, creativity, and authenticity. They’re self-reliant workers who enjoy the freedom to be flexible in how they fulfil their roles, and they want feedback “bite-sized” and in real-time. As “digital natives,” hand-held devices are indispensable tools. Communications are primarily visual via the use of emojis, gifs, and memes.

Is one generation better than the other? Absolutely not! Each come with strengths and weaknesses just like the individuals that make up these generations. And, yes, the very different traits of the generations — things such as work style, communication methods, and even style of dress — can be sources of friction. Misunderstandings are often the cause of workplace conflict and this is more likely with a wide range of age groups working together. Even clients who love their work can become disheartened and frustrated by their colleagues.

Career professionals can play a vital role in helping these clients. We can coach on how to employ emotional intelligence and practice being understanding. We can encourage clients to venture out of their comfort zones to collaborate, learn, and grow.

Here are some tips — applicable to all generations — that you might want to share with clients to help foster intergenerational workplace harmony.

Avoid making assumptions. Myths abound about each generation but try to set all of them aside while learn for yourself what makes your coworkers tick.

Find common ground. We’re all products of the generation we grew up in but, in spite of differences, there are always commonalities to be uncovered.

Listen more than you speak. Show respect for what others have to say by giving them time to fully express their ideas and thoughts. Listen carefully to understand and strive to not let the speaker’s age influence your response.

Respect differences, life/work experiences, and boundaries. Educate yourself about generational preferences, values, and work styles. Doing so can provide valuable insight into how best to interact with co-workers.

Encourage group problem-solving discussions. Every generation has strengths, knowledge, and ideas to contribute that can ultimately lead to stronger solutions.

Be both a teacher and a student. Be generous in sharing what you know if it will help co-workers and the company. And, be open to opportunities to learn from colleagues who possess skills or insights that would benefit you.

Stretch your notion of flexibility. Accept the fact that there will be differing styles of dress, hours of work, and behaviours. In a collaborative workplace where everyone is held accountable, are these things really that important?

Become the multi-generational champion of your workplace. Embrace the differences inherent in each generation. Hopefully, astute colleagues notice and follow suit. Lobby employers for cross-training and job-shadowing opportunities to facilitate knowledge exchange.

Focus on NOT emphasizing generational differences. Strive to avoid language or behaviour that promotes stereotypes, workplace silos, or an “us vs. them” environment — for example, referring to co-workers as “senior” or “junior.”

Build bridges. Regardless of age, extend a hand in friendship. Everyone needs help sometimes, or just someone to talk to, and there is no reason the bridges can’t be cross-generational.

Change is a good thing! We can all benefit from opening ourselves to learning from others, deliberately stretching out of our comfort zones, and finding strength in diversity.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
Leo Tolstoy

Tanya Kett is an experienced Career Development Advisor at McMaster University’s Student Success Centre in Hamilton, Ontario. Tanya prepares students for career success by guiding them through career exploration, job search strategies, and options for further education. She further supports them by offering employment coaching and mock interview sessions for both employment and academic opportunities. Tanya is a Career Development Practitioner, Certified Professional Coach, and Certified Résumé Strategist. An advocate of lifelong learning, she will complete her Master of Education in Post-Secondary Studies in April of 2020.

Photo by Aleksandr Davydov on 123RF


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