The Super Bowl halftime show was viewed by over 29 million U.S. households and featured a lineup of 90s hip-hop royalty, including Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Eminem, and 50 Cent.
Soon after the show aired, my Facebook and Twitter feeds began filling up with comments about whether the show was pure Nirvana (pardon the pun) or more akin to Nine Inch Nails (I can’t help myself) on a chalkboard. Those among the 60-plus set did not think the halftime show was groovy or the bee’s knees, whereas many Millennials were gettin’ jiggy with it and thought the show was all that and a bag of chips.
As a member of Generation X, I thought the Boomers and Millennials should stop spazzing out over the halftime show and just take a chill pill. After all, nearly all of the performers are Gen Xers, not Millennials, and the halftime show wasn’t half as rad as previous shows performed by the totally righteous likes of Prince and Bon Jovi. For their part, the younger members of Generation Z did not spill the tea about the halftime show, perhaps because they do not stan the music of their parents and considered the show a bit basic and not at all drippy.
All joking and puns aside, the sometimes stark differences between the generations are not isolated to social media squabbles over which era had the best music (note: obviously the 80s). These generational differences can also create conflict in the workplace. The modern workforce is composed of employees from four generations: Baby Boomers (1946–1964), Generation X (1965–1980), Millennials (1981–2000), and Generation Z (2001–2020). Some companies and organizations (e.g., the White House) may even employ members of a fifth generation known as the Silent Generation, composed of people born between 1925 and 1945.
The members of each generation have their own values, behaviors, and expectations about how they see the world and the role that work plays in their lives. Employers need to understand and address these generational differences to create a thriving workplace and avoid miscommunication and employee attrition, particularly with regard to the areas of technology, work environment, and access to benefits.
Perhaps the most obvious example of generational differences involves technology. Millennials and Generation Z grew up with personal electronics and social media. As a result, they are generally more comfortable using technology than older generations. Baby Boomers and Generation X are accustomed to using more traditional kinds of communications and may prefer face-to-face interactions and telephone conferences to texting, e-mails, and instant messaging.
Boomers and Gen Xers are generally considered more loyal and trusting of authority than their younger colleagues; more willing to work long hours; and more desirous of titles, awards, and other forms of external recognition. In contrast, Millennials and Gen Z, who were raised during economically turbulent times marked by recession and layoffs, are less likely to be loyal to a particular employer and less likely to sacrifice work/life balance to advance their careers.
Millennials crave autonomy and expect their work to align with their passions and to further their sense of purpose. Consequently, they are more likely to push back on workplace rules and expect greater accountability from their managers. Likewise, employees from younger generations may also demand more workplace flexibility, including flexibility on their schedule, work assignments, and the ability to work remotely rather than in a brick-and-mortar office.
Older employees are generally more interested in an employer offering excellent healthcare benefits and 401(k) matching funds versus younger employees, who place an emphasis on stock options, assistance with student debt, and opportunities for continued education.
How to Bridge the Generational Gap
Every person is different, and many employees defy these broad generalizations. Hopefully, however, employees of all generations will share the common goals of personal achievement and the overall success of the organization.
To meet these goals, employers should use a variety of methods to communicate with and train employees, seek employee input, provide feedback and workplace flexibility when possible, and offer a range of benefits that will appeal to the needs and preferences of their workforce. In addition, look for opportunities to pair workers from different generations on teams and in mentor-mentee relationships so they can learn from each other to the benefit of your business.
By understanding and addressing employees’ varying viewpoints and values, and providing equal employment opportunities to employees regardless of age, employers can create and sustain a harmonious work environment that transcends generational differences.