The importance of overcoming generational stereotypes in the workplace

Perceived differences in the morals, values, and activities between generations has been an age-old cause of friction. In recent years, a prejudiced attitude has become particularly noticeable in the workplace, with several stereotypes resulting from misperceptions or poor communication. These prejudices (unconscious or otherwise) can taint important HR decisions, preventing the acquisition or development of talent.

What are the problems?

A great deal of literature on the supposed differences between the generations has circulated, warning of the problems to come as a result. This divide has been driven from a multi-generational workforce split between Generation X, Generation Y and Baby Boomers.

Ask anyone what the problem is with a particular generation, and they’ll likely give consistent answers. Boomers are rude, controlling, and domineering. Millennials are entitled, self-obsessed and unwilling to work.

Though there are some broad benefits to stereotyping, these views hold little real value in the workplace. Society has moved past the outdated ideas of judging a person’s ability or character by their ethnicity or gender, and yet generational stereotypes remain. With the expectation that younger generations will be filling the shoes of their predecessors, the disconnect between generations needs to be addressed.

How best to judge?

Practical interaction across a range of settings is the best way of getting to know an employee and how well they perform. But there are other constructive ways of assessing employees’ skills and areas for improvement which should be a primary concern of a company’s HR department.

It is important to remember each person’s value as an individual, and to use the HR tools at your disposal to get a good idea of your staff’s capabilities and where you can offer further help.

Collecting data – both qualitative and quantitative – from your employees, via assessments and appraisals, is of far more substance than half-baked assumptions made based on a person’s age. Structured training and development programmes are a vital commodity: they allow employees to achieve more and companies to get the best results from staff. This consideration for employees improves morale, and will turn out better work.

By getting to know your staff, you can identify strengths and weaknesses, and offer support when necessary. The extra attention is worthwhile in the long run, as employees will be happier in roles suited to their skills and interests, with peace of mind that their employers care about their needs and value.

Help in making the change

The smaller your team, the easier and more reasonable it is to assume that the boss can get a feel of their staff as individuals. Yet this becomes more difficult the larger a workforce you are in charge of.

Whether you are lacking in time or resources, there are solutions to assist managers and HR teams in maintaining a satisfied and efficient workforce. HR software offers a way to organise your workplace and its activity. These systems enable the monitoring and planning of new recruits’ journeys, as well as offer in-depth appraisal and development tracking.

The 21st century prides itself on being a forward-thinking and open-minded time where we may dismiss outdated assumptions and prejudices in favour of data and experiences. While openness has enabled equal opportunities in many ways, generational dividers remain an issue. Getting to know an individual's strengths and weaknesses, outside of broad generational categorisation, is essential to attracting and nurturing the talent which will carry our society into upcoming generations.