The generation gap has hit my workplace!! The short version is that my firm was very heavy on the boomers, light on Gen X (that's me BTW), and due to boomer retirement getting (much) heavier on Gen Y.  "Replacement talent"  tends to be either Gen X folks from the outside (not me BTW) or entry level Y types . The rub is that both are being given a lot of responsibility very quickly -- the Gen Y group in particular -- and I am finding that my older, more experienced staff are resentful of  the level of responsibility and the (exterior anyhow) confidence that the newer (less than 2 yrs) employees show. The expression I have been hearing too much of lately is akin to flowery excrement  -- which does not fit the work ethic, enthusiasm, self awareness that I see in our younger staff.

I have done some reading on the subject. I provide feedback and coaching but success (defined as having a more experienced employee independently recognize an opportunity to mentor or provide some helpful assistance or insight to a new person) is slow. My prevailing theory is that the "wait your turn" mentality is much strong in the younger boomers who, by nature of all those ahead of them, may feel they have had to do a lot of waiting. In short, I am surprised at the complete lack of interest in mentoring and sharing their hard earned experience. Any experience out there on bridging this gap??

douglase's picture

are you having One on Ones with your directs?

are you providing your directs with feedback and coaching?

I have managed people from Boomers to Gen Y.  I'm a GenX myself.  I personally have found that ignoring generational issues and working on my relationship with each staff member effective at eliminating this problem.




mdave's picture

Yes, yes.... and that has been my approach to date. It's a peculiar chemistry that has spawned some interesting behaviors -- which I have been focusing on. Time, I suppose. Thanks for your suggestions.

Mark's picture
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[There are two parts to this answer.  Part one is NOT an indictment of MDave, but rather a comment on the "concept" of generational management.  Part two suggests a plan of action (based of course, on my VERY different view of this ...situation. ]


Part One:

There is no Generation Gap for Managers.  None, none, none.

If we're going to say that we have to manage boomers differently than Gen X'ers or Millennials, we might as well slip right down the slope to managing women "differently" than men, or Asians differently than Hispanics.

This always reminds me of the terribly crass bit from the television show, "The Office" where the idiot boss says, "well you're rom Mexico, but we don't want to call you a Mexican, so maybe you'd rather we call you something else that isn't so negative."  Seriously - if your skin doesn't crawl there, you have no soul.

Generational Management is the latest soft bigotry foisted on us by folks peddling ideas to managers whom they know are unwilling to dig deep into a relationship and find out what makes each individual tick. 

We don't manage groups, and we oughtn't let our biases thereof inform our individual relationships - painstakingly built over time, and worth their weight in retention bonuses.

There is NO discernible statistically significant difference between ANY two groupings of people that is not FAR OUTWEIGHED by the differences between any two INDIVIDUALS in either of those groups.  This is the Wendii Curve - more soon.

These questions also remind me of my daughter.  She's blonde.  She was a cheerleader.  She loves expensive shoes and expensive purses.   And she's 24.  A Millennial, I think.  She owns two tiny chihuahuas.  She likes celebrity gossip.

Got the picture?  Almost caricturish, huh?  How would you manage her?

Okay, how would you manage her opposite?  A 3.0 Top 50 school Mechanical Engineer rocket scientist who is an off the charts High D and who is a tough as nails childhood cancer survivor with a burning edge to make a difference in the world and run things TOMORROW and who refuses to wear anything to work but what the boss's boss's boss wears

OOPS...that's my daughter too.  Anyone who managed Kate as a Millennial would find themselves working for her. 

We don't lump people into groups to make our jobs easier.  We separate them by our time spent with them, and ask the best of each based on what she has to offer based on the role we ask of her.

Part Two

If your more senior folks are "resentful", it's largely irrelevant, because you don't KNOW that, you can only infer it based on your biases.  If ONE of them engages in behavior that a reasonable person (including you :-) ) would see as resentful, give him or her feedback FAST on the behavior, not the resentment.  If THEY lump the young people together, spank them with feedback ( I mean deliver it quickly, politely,  yet be willing to escalate quickly).

Ask each individual to mentor someone.  Ask AS THEIR BOSS.  Don't ask for favors.  If they don't offer, give them feedback.  Doesn't need to be forceful.  If they do offer, give them positive feedback.  When they have their first meeting, give them more positive feedback.  When they stumble, ask them to keep at it, and praise their effort quietly to them.  If the younger cohort dismisses the more senior efforts, be quick with negative feedback there as well.

Manage your individuals.  It's only a team when the group identities disappear.  And as long as you believe they're parts of their groups, the identitites remain.

There is NO Generation Gap for managers.

Keep us posted, and I'll be happy to visit with you privately if it will help.


douglase's picture

Thanks for that post Mark.  You just summed up why I have always said "I ignore generational issues as dealing with the individual seems to eliminate the issue0."  I just couldn't articulate it.  I always just instinctively shied away from it.



430jan's picture

 I manage three generations at work. The only thing I would add to Mark is that if you are asking older workers to mentor, please listen to the mentoring podcasts and be sure that you don't set up a resentful worker with a chance to torture a newbie. Identify specific tasks or projects and exactly what you want them to mentor on and how. Don't just set them loose. People have a lot of kooky ideas about what is appropriate mentoring. And maybe they are teaching something you don't want to propagate.

Guess what? I was cocky and self-assured as a young nurse. I'm sure that the 50 year olds of that day thought I was ridiculous. To that end I see Mark's point about individuals as opposed to group labeling. On the other hand, I also grew up in a time where kids were told they are school, etc. It certainly wasn't a foreign concept to me as a youngster. (I don't remember anybody complementing me on the pretty colors of my tree drawing if it looked nothing like a tree) So that shaped me and you could call it a generational characteristic in my book. I have found that some young workers have not developed the ability to hear correcting feedback without a great deal of shock and awe that they may have far to go. Some have not heard anything but how spectacular they are. The love that I show them through our O3s is what breeds the respect that helps them listen and learn. If they don't have that chance for personal contact they think it is condescending and critical (who wouldn't?) 

Guess what I am saying is that If they don't know their mentor they may not have developed that relationship, and you might have a mess. (again, I work with nurses and they are WAY messy) I love all my staff, I do see trends in society that have shaped their personalities. If you want to clump that into generational characteristics I'm not violently opposed. Mark apparently has seen a lot of bad and lazy managing that comes out of this. Nobody likes to be pigeonholed, and what does it matter? You are gonna have to deal with generational differences individually anyway. It all comes down to good 'ole hard work.