Millennials and Baby Boomers are the darlings – or the villains – of the press these days. Many business publications and social media outlets would have us believe that every company has its own version of a soap opera starring managers who are 55-plus and their teams of professionals between 25 and 35.
The finger pointing when it comes to communications issues and general workplace frustration has gotten out of hand. Instead of finding commonalities and seeking out ways to act as a united front, the “us vs. them” mentality tends to dominate. If only someone could swoop in and work to bridge these detrimental generational gaps instead of widening them.
This is where Generation X comes in. This is the same group of once-reviled folks who inspired the film “Reality Bites.” Its members were the first to realize that the safety net of Social Security would cease to exist for them. But now, if given the right developmental support, these professionals are in the perfect position to determine the future direction for many firms.
The Gen X’ers invested in being this bridge cannot go this road alone. They need support from their employers as well as specific professional development initiatives. Here are four ways companies can prepare Gen X leaders to bridge the generational gap that plagues the modern workplace:
1) Instill a formal mentorship program designed to help assuage Millennials perpetual desire for information. Many firms talk about targeted mentoring; they may even formally implement a program to facilitate knowledge sharing. Why? Mentoring is the ideal tool with which one can provide teachable moments to engage with and indulge perpetually information and lesson hungry millennials, to tap into their development needs and answer their questions. However, few use this development tool to gather valuable intel from future leaders. Information collected from active mentor-mentee relationships should respect confidences, yet provide actionable data upon which senior leaders can base their management style.
2) Institute a formal emotional intelligence/communications curriculum lead by the Gen X’ers. A dearth of effective communication is a harmonious and productive workplace’s natural enemy, and a lack of emotional intelligence doesn’t make communication any easier. Sharing information is not enough, however. Fortunately, we can teach leaders how to motivate. We can help to create confidence and to build communication skills. We can give leaders safe spaces in which to practice how to be direct and forthcoming and to learn how to embrace fear.
Learning programs that highlight emotional intelligence and effective communication will facilitate an active, ongoing dialogue between the generations, which is important. Being relatable doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and arrogance is not confidence, nor is confidence always arrogance. Sometimes, leaders have to be taught how to break down barriers that inhibit collaboration and relatability, or trust, at work.
3) Ensure that Gen X leaders have a strong working knowledge of “how the sausage is made” within the company. They will need to share this information with their direct reports. Transparency is everything to the Millennial workforce. Because their smartphone has always been a fixture, they’ve developed a need for a constant stream of information. They’ve learned to distrust anyone who is unwilling to bare themselves naked at their behest. If younger team members do not understand, on a semi-granular level, how and why a company works the way it does, they will never commit to furthering its success. If Gen X managers do not skillfully explain things to their younger colleagues a corrosive mistrust may take over the ranks and eventually erode even the most formidable retention efforts.
4) Encourage Gen X’ers to be active and vocal with Boomers at the top about the company’s vision and direction. Gen X should be charged with recruitment, retention and development for their greener charges. Why? Trying to change and mold the leaders on the more seasoned end of the spectrum is a Sisyphean task thanks to a common tendency to perpetuate a “this is the way we have always done things” attitude. This is akin to the kiss of death for any company that plans to exist past 2030.
Gen X’ers are often more in touch with their Millennial team members because of their firm grasp of technology and social media and of the modern professional development landscape. In simple terms, Gen X’ers have more “street cred” with Millennials. They’re also more likely to lead with their humanity and recognize the strength in selectively sharing their own vulnerabilities in order to garner trust and earn respect among their subordinates.
Generational miscommunication is a real problem in the workplace. But with the right development and support Gen X can become a natural bridge between Boomers and Millennials.
Wendy Merrill is founder and chief rainmaker for StrategyHorse Consulting Group. To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com.