No, this is not another article about the gaps and characteristics of the different generations, such as the millennial generation, the Y generation, and the X generation. Nor will we discuss here "ageism" or discrimination based on age, which is usually directed towards the older ages. Nor does this article aim to prove that older workers are better for the workplace, a fact that Howard University recently published. The purpose of this article is to show different manifestations of Generation Gaps in the Workplace and how to deal with them wisely.
He entered the meeting room, sat down in front of me slowly, dressed in his best vest, and was silent. I asked him the most general question I can ask when someone is at a loss for words:- "What's on your mind?"
He looked at me, looked down, and looked at me again, this time it was evident that he mustered more courage and said:
- "I want to leave my company."
I nodded in understanding and said with the required delicacy:
- "If you feel comfortable, you can share the reason with me."
I noticed that the subject was very difficult for him and at the same time I knew that if he wanted to solve the challenge he encountered, he had to face it and share.
- "They put a new manager over me, who is 20 years younger than me." He said and looked down again.
The session above, which took place about 5 years ago, is the first case I came across, related to the effect of the age gap in the workplace on the employees' sense of belonging to the organization. This is also the case that made me realize that the issue of age is a very important layer in the field of diversity and inclusion. I always say that the issue of diversity and inclusion is very close to my heart because, in a certain sense, I experienced it firsthand, but I also managed to move to the other side of the barrier and feel connected to the company I worked for as well as help other employees experience this belonging. When I encountered the case above, I realized that the organization must take it seriously. I also realized that age differences in the workplace are significant diversity for the success of the organization.
In the world of diversity and inclusion, there is a fairly well-known concept called "unconscious bias" (unconscious bias). This concept represents the variety of attitudes and stereotypes that affect our understanding, our actions, and even our decisions unconsciously. For example, a manager may recruit employees unconsciously according to a "gut feeling", which represents a very certain "casting", one that is preferred by the manager based on patterns or prejudices and which gives expression to their subconscious and impacts the diversity.
Unconscious age bias exists not only in recruitment and management but also within the working teams and between the employees. In the above case, for example, in a more in-depth conversation with the employee, it became clear to me that the employee has a very deep-rooted belief that managerial roles should be performed by people who are older than him. That employee believes that the older a person is the stronger their management skills are, and he finds himself with a daily conflict with his belief. There is a variety of unconscious biases regarding age in the workplace. A young manager, who believes that anyone who is older than him and is not in a managerial position is a failure; an older manager, who believes that young employees should mainly learn and not speak up and share their opinions, and more. All those unconscious beliefs limit diversity and inclusion in organizations and affect the employees' sense of belonging to the organization up to the level of termination of the engagement with the employee, either through dismissal or resignation.
- "Can you elaborate for me why the fact that you have a manager younger than you makes you consider leaving the workplace?" I asked curiously.
- "It just doesn't make sense to me," he said. "In the army, I commanded soldiers because I was more senior, meaning I served more time than them. Then, suddenly here comes someone new and young and already manages me. It's hard for me to take instructions from someone like that."
Our beliefs can come from a wide variety of sources. Things we heard over and over again from our parents in our childhood, things we learned at school, experiences we went through, and more. Those same sources formed a solid opinion about things for us at one point or another in life. This opinion is sometimes even seen as a fact of life to us and we act on it automatically. A form that limits our ability to see the full picture and respond more appropriately and correctly.
Generation Gaps in the Workplace - how to deal with age gaps in the workplace?
Facing challenges related to age differences in the workplace is extremely important for encouraging diversity and inclusion and for the employees' sense of engagement and belonging to the organization. While each case must be examined on its own merits, several rules can help us deal with the challenge more effectively.
Rule 1: Improve communication between managers and company employees.
Encourage transparent, respectful, and discreet communication between the managers and their employees and give them the necessary tools to have an open dialogue on a variety of topics with high levels of sensitivity. Many times employees are afraid to share what is in their hearts for fear of harming their relationship, their promotion, and even for fear of being fired. Open communication between managers and employees is a key factor in healthy coping with the age gap challenge as well as with many other challenges.
Rule 2: Locate the unconscious biases.
Start from the assumption that we all have unconscious biases and try to find them through different means such as a case study process, which is designed to shed light on the case and the motives without judgment and intimidation of any kind. Also remember to allow a safe space for this process, since transparency and openness have a great impact on success.
Rule 3: Expand your mental canvas.
Any unconscious bias is a golden opportunity to expand and change the thinking patterns not only of those concerned but of the entire organization. Use the intra-organizational communication channels to raise awareness, guide, and train the employees on how to behave in such cases in the future. Give them the feeling that there is a wide scope for correction and learning.
I looked into his eyes and thought to myself: "He didn't come to me just like that. Maybe there is something in him that wants to find a way to stay and cope." I asked him:
- "Do you want to find a way to deal with the situation other than leaving?"
- "Very much, but I don't know what to do."
- "Did you talk to the manager about your feelings?"
- "No, I'm afraid."
- "What would you choose to talk to him about if you weren't afraid?"
- "I guess I would ask him to address me less firmly and not to throw instructions at me without background and explanation".
In many cases, it seems that the age gap overwhelms the employees with unconscious biases, which can be dealt with with appropriate communication tools. The main challenge remains to identify and "capture" the same biases, since if they are unconscious it is quite difficult to detect them. But there are dedicated tools for this as well, for example, Howard University has developed a diagnostic tool for measuring unconscious bias towards different groups.
At the end of the day if we know how to develop the skills of humility in our managers and employees we can also identify and prevent many unconscious biases not only in the field of age gaps but in any other issue.
Corporate Coach for employee engagement and diversity and inclusion