Managing someone from a different generation than your own can present its own unique set of challenges.
There seems to be some stereotypes between Baby Boomers and Millennials, where Millennials are often viewed as entitled, and that their focus on work unrealistic, selfish, and not disrespectful to others.
When managing someone younger, how can you navigate such differences in values and priorities in a way that is respectful to all?
1. Stop making generalizations about an entire group of people.
Sure, there are Millennials who don’t pull their weight at work. There are also people in every single generation before and after Millennials who do the same. Yes, research can point towards certain trends in different generations. There is also always variability within each generation.
Making assumptions about someone based on the generation they are from only creates additional barriers to navigate.
If you lead a team of multiple Millennials, shifting your focus to the strengths and weaknesses of each individual will put you in a better place to support them in their professional development.
2. Be curious about yourself as you attempt to understand behaviour that is different from your own.
Often, when we find specific behaviours problematic, it can be because those are different than the ones we exhibit ourselves, which we can come to expect of others also. For example, if you have been amenable to working late throughout your career, you may find it irritating when a younger team member insists their work day ends at 5 pm sharp.
When you find yourself in these situations, take time to explore your anger or irritation. Stop and ask yourself why. Why do I feel so upset about this situation?
This isn’t about listing out all of the things the other person is doing wrong. It’s about shifting the focus to your own self-reflection.
In this example, could it be possible that you may view this person as being selfish is because deep down, you struggle to set the limits needed in your own life? Or have you refrained from effectively engaging in a conversation around the issue?
Bottom line – this may be a good time to explore whether or not you are sharing and respecting your own boundaries.
3. Acknowledge that different doesn’t mean wrong.
Working through differences in values and priorities isn’t always easy. We have a tendency to see ours as the “right” ones and then attempt to convince others that they need to see our perspective.
When we are talking about shifts in values across generations, it needs to go deeper than this. Because just as much as you are tied to your view of what behaviours “should” be exhibited in the workplace, so are others. Managing someone younger than you effectively means being able to engage in conversations around these different perspectives with an open mind.
For this to go well, it needs to start with recognizing that just because someone is doing something differently than how we are used to, it doesn’t mean they are doing it wrong.
Ask questions to help you learn and understand what motivates the behaviour of your younger team members (ok, actually, all of your team members, really…). Share the same with regard to yourself. The more everyone is able to understand the reason behind people’s behaviour, the easier it becomes to respect and successfully navigate differences.
4. Refine clarity of expectations.
Whether across generations or in other contexts, conflict often arises when expectations are not met. And yet, so often, the exact unmet expectations that contribute to conflict have never been verbalized with adequate clarity.
If you find yourself encountering recurring challenges as you are managing younger team members, it may be time to define the gap in your vs. their expectations. Not just specific to a particular task, but in relation to their contributions to the company overall.
For this to be successful, it can’t simply be a one-way conversation where people are told where they’re falling short. It is equally as important to explore where their expectations aren’t being met and what can be done for all in this regard.
If lack of clarity in expectations tends to be a recurring issue, it may well be time to reflect on how this can be refined right from the recruitment and onboarding phase.
5. Create space for new ideas and perspectives.
Younger generations bring in new perspectives and ideas. They bring a way of seeing the world and the work they do that is different than how others may see things. Not better, not worse. Simply different.
Deciding too quickly that “this is just how things are done around here” can be the very thing that one day leaves your organization wondering how you’ve developed a reputation of having a stifling work atmosphere.
As a manager or leader, you are in a position of both being a mentor to younger team members and also being able to learn from the novel perspectives they bring to the organization.
Embracing both sides of this relationship will allow you both to grow immensely in your work together.
In reality, navigating a generation divide is not necessarily any more different than managing any other situation where there is a difference of opinion, priority or conflict. It simply requires you to take a step back and engage in sometimes difficult conversations with an open mind.
If you’re looking to further develop your leadership communication skills, to be able to navigate situations such as these with success, register now for my free video e-course: Free Yourself from Workplace Confrontation and Conflict.
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