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The 4 Generation Battle Royale in the Workplace

By: Joe Burton
Published: Sep 26, 2017
Different generations of people standing against a wall

For the first time ever, we have four generations working together. That’s right, more companies have Millennials working with Gen Xers, working with Baby Boomers, working with traditionalists.

And guess what? When it comes to company culture, they hate each other!

You can’t get four generations together for a family dinner without all hell breaking loose. It’s even worse in business. On one end, you have the millennials showing up and thinking, “Who created this mess?” and “What’s up with office hours, dude?” On the other side, you may have the “walking retired” worried about being less and less relevant—or being pushed out at a time when they can’t afford to leave.

The good news for business is that we’ve never had such a rich tapestry of experience and energy in the workforce at one time. The bad news for business is that, in many cases, these four generations aren’t equipped to accept one another, let alone be happy, willing and able to work together. Each of these generations has different languages, different work expectations, different aspirations and different belief systems based on how and when they grew up.

Although millennials have taken the worst reputation beating in this steel cage match, all generations have their own issues and sticking points. These aren’t glass houses. They’re glass neighborhoods.

When it comes to matters of the mind, most companies simply expect employees to figure it out. Put them all together and leave them to their own devices. Unfortunately, human beings are complex and dynamic. We don’t simply “work it out.” Instead, we tend to be judgmental of what we don’t understand—including other people. With the stress and pace of modern business picking up at an alarming rate, it’s important for businesses to stop and think about these generational differences and how to bring out the best in people. In the absence of that, it’s easy for these individual groups to actually bring out the worst in one another. Think about it. Human nature is to pick sides or put things in categories. Reinforce each other’s belief systems. Draw in support from others. It’s easy to end up with an “us vs. them” culture.

As more companies are embracing mindfulness practices to help with a wide array of health and performance issues, they increasingly discover that it also to helps fill generational gaps. Here are three exercises where mindfulness helps different generations be more open to one another and embrace those differences:

Being Curious

We can learn a lot from other generations. Instead of seeing people as “too old” or “too young” to know better, why not engage in conversation to hear their points of view? Uncover common ground by asking interesting questions. One of my favorites is hearing people’s life stories. You can tell a lot about a person by what they reveal in their life stories. Try, “Tell me about your life.” Or “How do you like to spend your time?”

Being Non-judgemental

We all have different experiences—not just based on when we were born. One study found that just a 10-minute mindfulness practice can reduce age bias on the Implicit Attitude Test. This is an evaluation of our unconscious biases towards people or objects. Learning to work with different types of people can bring an even bigger pool of ideas to the table, which makes any team stronger.

Just Like Me

When you come across the youngins or oldins that bother you, try a Just Like Me practice. Stop yourself in the moment of judgement. Take a breath. And think of five ways in which this individual is just like you. They’re likely to have similar wants and needs in life. Similar fears and regrets. And a similar desire to be loved, respected and understood. Finding common ground goes a long way to dropping judgement. Then take the next step and open up a conversation. This is also a great exercise to better understand and get along better with difficult family members.

For today’s challenge, think about other generations in your office that really set you off. Set the intention to actually connect with someone who is completely different from you and who, if you’re being honest, you’ve been judging. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, invite them out to coffee and openly share that you’ve had judgments and concerns about their generation. Share those concerns and ask openly for feedback on your own generation. My sense is you’ll find an interested party on the other end of this conversation that will be happy to share their thoughts (and may be even their own concerns with your generation).

About the Author

Headshot of Joe Burton

Retired Founder and CEO of Whil and former President of Headspace

Joe is an entrepreneur in the digital wellness space, retired Founder and CEO of Whil and former President of Headspace, and spent fifteen years as a global COO in public companies. He’s an alumnus of Harvard Business School and a regular contributor to Forbes, Business Insider and The Huffington Post. He’s worked in over 50 countries and travels the world speaking on topics including disruption, culture, resiliency and mindfulness.

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