Get past stereotypes for better multi-generational work ties

SHAPED by different life experiences, workers of different ages tend to have contrasting work styles, expectations and priorities that can be a source of discord, if not properly managed.

The most fundamental cause of conflict between the generations has to do with different perspectives of work.

Cheryl Liew-Chng, chief executive of LifeWorkz, a consultancy specialising in work-life, gender and generational issues, said: "Baby boomers see work as a means to an end. It gives them a sense of identity and security; the younger generation sees work as an expression of themselves and what they are good at."

Gen X, which she deems the "sandwich generation", tends to work even if they do not like it because they grew up in a world where they had to be independent. How they get things done can rub their colleagues the wrong way.

Ms Liew-Chng added: "Baby boomers are used to a top-down approach; Gen X is more process-oriented, with

hierarchy and protocols to be followed. Gen Y just gets the job done in whatever way that works for them."

The biggest hindrance has to do with subconscious bias and stereotypes.

For example, the older generation such as the baby boomers and Gen X-ers tend to perceive the millennials as entitled and lacking in discipline. Younger employees may see their older counterparts as conservative and dogmatic.

Joanne Chua, account director for South-east Asia in Robert Walters Singapore, said such negative stereotyping can affect work relationships and lead to dysfunctional and underperforming teams.

One potential source of tension in a multi-generational workforce is when younger managers lead older workers.

Helen Lim, founder and chief executive of Silver Spring, a job-matching site for mature workers, said: "As seniors age, the ability to embrace rapid changes is somewhat limited while Gen X and Gen Y practically grew up with technology."

It is often up to the manager to salvage the situation.

Chia Xinling was put to the test when she joined her family's business, Hakko Products, five years ago as the youngest member among the staff of 15. A third of the workers were above 60.

"The biggest problem is that older workers are usually unwilling to get on board any new initiative that sounds unfamiliar," she said.

Now, her strategy is to broach the idea in a casual conversation and give it time to sink in. Then, she starts convincing the team, a process that could take weeks.

When it finally comes to implementation, she has to teach the members of the team exactly what needs to be done.

The older members of the team are very "fast and good" once they get the hang of the new system, said Ms Chia.

She has, in turn, learnt lessons from her older colleagues.

"The younger generation is more impatient and wants to push the system to its limit to get things done fast. But there are certain things that require waiting so that a better outcome can be reached."

This article was first published on June 14, 2016.
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