Many people are paying attention to the allegedly different attitudes and behaviors of employees from different generations. While there is little scientific evidence to prove significant differences in work styles between generations, stereotypes — misconceptions related to individuals’ abilities based on age — are common.
Age stereotyping can threaten productivity and morale. When employees assume a co-worker is bad with technology because he is a baby boomer or is narcissistic and needy because he is a millennial, they can create tension among team members and may overlook a co-worker’s potential to contribute.
Employees of all ages, at all professional levels and in all regions reported endorsing significant age stereotypes, according to a March study, “Age-Based Stereotypes: Silent Killer of Collaboration and Productivity” from AchieveGlobal, a workforce consulting firm. The study also found the higher level of leadership an employee held, the more likely the individual was to harbor age stereotypes.
Leaders can help dispel misconceptions related to age by encouraging collaboration across generations. Collaboration allows employees to see their co-workers as people and not as age-based limitations.
To champion cross-generational collaboration and inclusion, leaders should consider adopting the following practices:
1. Challenge stereotypes. While a seemingly intuitive first step, challenging stereotypes is often overlooked in efforts to promote collaboration. First, leaders should reflect on how their own perceptions and stereotypes can skew their views and actions. Leaders must honestly assess whether they treat employees differently because of age-based perceptions or if they have inadvertently created an environment in which employees operate in silos based on the age-related expectations of their abilities.
Once leaders address their own biases, they should encourage others to confront and reject age stereotypes by treating people as individuals. When leaders recognize, respect and leverage their employees’ unique qualities, employees will follow suit.
2. Find common ground. Successful cross-generational collaboration starts with finding common ground employees can build on. To uncover commonalities, ask respectful questions and listen to answers with an open mind; don’t let stereotypes or misconceptions fill in the blanks for any questions employees have. Consider galvanizing the team around a common goal or purpose, helping them to connect around a mutual business objective.
3. Maximize each individual’s skills. A leader should assume everyone has something to bring to the table. The leader’s role is to create an environment in which employees are comfortable and empowered to share their talents, skills and thoughts. Ask employees about their outside interests, experiences and abilities; it may reveal professional growth opportunities or untapped skills the team can leverage to meet its goals.
4. Mix it up. Encourage employees to work with co-workers with whom they don’t often interact. When developing teams, try to ensure they are generationally diverse if possible. Promote idea sharing. Solicit ideas and ask co-workers questions so all feel valued. Encourage all team members to contribute their expertise.
5. Set high standards. Challenge employees with new projects and different team work arrangements. Hold employees accountable for treating co-workers fairly and without bias. Great expectations often lead to stronger results.
Sharon Daniels is president and CEO of AchieveGlobal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.