Across the United States, for the first time in modern history, workplace demographics now span four generations, meaning that 20-year-old new hires can find themselves working side-by-side with colleagues who are older than they are by 50 years, or even more, as stated by an AARP article.
This can mean increasing conflict in the workplace. For example, here is an article that lists some core values across generations, why they differ and where we feel strain in our workforce relationships and internal community.
While article’s like this, will blame communication issues on generational stereotypes, calling millennials as ‘more entitled’ or baby boomers as ‘being less fluent in social media,’ I think that the core issue is a growing lack of community, group cohesion and shared emotional connection.
Through personal experience, I’ve come to know that we grow, learn, thrive and experience joy in a healthy community. I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to reach out to one another and overcome generational differences through what is termed “shared emotional connection.”
The importance of shared emotional connection, for positive group cohesion was first termed in a research study by McMillan and Chaves,1986, where it is summarized as “the definitive element of true community” and is measured by authentic interaction, sharing events, and how much investment you see from other people.
Simply put, people pay attention to how much effort you put back into them, both at work and on a personal level. Here are a few practices I remind myself of, so I can have more opportunities of shared emotional connection:
The most simple and effective way to build an emotional connection is with a smile. Dr. James Wilder, a neuro-psychologist states in his book “Joy Starts Here,” “the feeling joy is hardwired into the neural pathways of our brains and creates a sense of ‘glad to be with you.’” Smiling can also make you more approachable, so others can feel as though they can come to you for advice or help. In a multigenerational workforce, it is possible for everyone, everyday to receive a smile from an old person, a young person, and someone about their own age.
Extending the olive branch to a fellow coworker can be difficult. No matter how approachable they are - there are a million and one ways you can talk yourself out of starting that initial conversation. Maybe you tell yourself: “They’re too busy” or “They would never want to talk to me,” or “I’m too tired.” However, making attempts to engage with your coworkers and creating community is just as important as your job. Making that initial effort can be as simple as commenting on a decoration in another’s office area, celebrating another coworkers professional or personal achievements or asking to have lunch your next free Friday.
I am nearing the end of my “professional career,” so I feel the desire to share my knowledge to less experienced employees. However, I also remember my twenties and remember thinking: “these old-timers don’t know what they are doing.” Personally, I wish I had engaged with older people in the workplace when I was younger. I feel like my inner bias has kept me from advancing myself or career at an earlier point in my life. What I should have done instead, is try to find common ground with my fellow co-workers. You can do that through simple conversation. In her Ted Talk, “10 Ways To Have a Better Conversation”, Seleste Headlee, a seasoned radio host, talks about ingredients that foster conversations to bring engagement between people. On your next work break, make it a goal to implement one of her tips into your day.
People often get caught up in labels and internal biases, which can be harmful. In her article, “Managing People from 5 Generations,” Rebecca Knight wrote that, ‘rather than focusing on differences, we should “get to know each person individually.”
In the multigenerational work environment, remember that we all add to the conversation. Older people have a perspective that comes with length of years. Younger people are just learning how “to adult” in the working world and are asking why things are done a certain way. If we move-closer and engage with respect, healthy conversation we will add to our sense of community.
Do you consider your team or workplace to be multigenerational? What kind of challenges have you faced? Reply below to Share or Comment.
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