When we talk about diversity in the workplace, it's usually assumed that we're referring to workers' divergent cultural, ethnic, and national backgrounds. But there's another type of division in the workplace that has become a significant challenge for many managers: generational differences.
Experts agree that the typical workplace today spans more age groups than ever before, creating a situation that managers may not be prepared to address effectively. The clashes that arise from generational differences can be as serious as those associated with other types of differences, if not more so. The good news is that by developing and working within a simple framework for effective multigenerational management, many of these conflicts can be avoided.
On the surface, the suggestion that major gaps separate workers of different generations may seem to be overblown. But the truth is that the vast cultural, social, and technological changes that have transpired in recent years have caused substantial differences in outlooks, attitudes, and work practices.
The workforce in the hospitality industry often runs the gamut from elders who lived through World War II to young people who can't remember life before the Internet. The resulting differences of opinion and perception can be as severe as those that exist between people of divergent cultural or national backgrounds.
The pressures of the workplace may have prompted some staff members to harbor hostility towards employees in other age groups. For example, younger workers may feel that their older counterparts are taken more seriously and are afforded more respect and latitude by management. On the other hand, older workers may disdain what they see as a lack of loyalty and determination in their younger peers. Identifying and dismantling these types of stereotypes can be a formidable challenge.
Clearly, the generation gap is alive and well, and it's likely to rear its ugly head sooner or later if your hospitality organization, like most, is staffed by a multigenerational group. Quelling clashes between age groups in the workplace can be a daunting challenge, but if you're successful, you'll likely be well-positioned to cultivate with a top-notch crew.
The business case for diversity has been definitively proven time and time again. Top experts and the bottom line both confirm that diverse workforces are more effective, efficient, and profitable than others. Why? Well, diverse work groups can call upon a broader spectrum of knowledge and experience when working together to solve problems.
The same concept applies to multigenerational teams. By bringing together workers from a variety of age groups, you can harness, for example, the energy and adaptability of Gen Y, while also benefiting from the dependability and experience of Baby Boomers and beyond. Sounds great, right? But how to overcome the gaps and squabbles that seem inevitably to arise between these groups?
Openly acknowledge and address the issue. Sometimes, all that it takes to begin to diffuse the tension is an open acknowledgement that a gap exists. According to Krista Rahe of Rahe Hospitality Services, a Denver firm that runs training sessions for multigenerational teams, setting up a meeting to discuss multigenerational team issues can be enormously productive in creating an atmosphere conducive to positive change.
Take steps to leverage knowledge across age groups. Take the initiative to start programs that will encourage cooperation across generations. A mentoring program that pairs younger and older workers can be a beneficial way to kick-start this sort of collaboration. Emphasize that the knowledge and learning will flow both ways in the mentoring partnership.
Make room for fun, too. Left to their own devices, workers from different age groups aren't likely to mingle. If an opportunity presents itself, plan an event that highlights generational differences while also encouraging group solidarity. For example, a potluck dinner or costume party in which everyone's contribution represents their own era can spark some lively cross-generational conversations.