Lead by Example
All employees want to be appreciated for their contributions and hard-earned knowledge. In multigenerational workplaces, such appreciation may be more difficult to achieve because of age-based stereotypes and misperceptions. It’s important to remember that younger employees have knowledge as well, for example—it’s just different from what those who have been in the workforce longer have.
Part of your responsibility as a manager is to ensure that everyone values the differences each person brings into the workplace. That means ensuring respect by all employees to all employees. The best way to do this is to lead by example, by simply demonstrating your own belief that generations should be treated fairly. Your actions will send a strong message.
Consider shaking up the hierarchy and bucking the usual age-based expectations. Assign a Baby Boomer to a social media project, for example, or ask a Millennial to lead a meeting. Another way to break down stereotypes is to stop associating individuals’ performance with their generation names, which are often loaded with assumptions and misperceptions. So instead of thinking of a younger employee’s desire to be promoted as “Millennial sense of entitlement,” for example, recognize that everyone, regardless of age, wants to progress in his or her career.
Continually remind yourself and your staff to focus more on generational similarities—of which there are many—rather than on generational differences. Keep in mind what Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton School and coauthor of Managing the Older Worker, stated in a 2014 interview with Harvard Business Weekly: “There is no evidence that 35-year-old managers today are any different from 35-year-old managers a generation ago.” At heart, we all want the same things: a pleasant work environment, proper compensation, and recognition for a job well done. Acknowledging these similarities among the differently aged members of your workforce will help you perceive them more as a cohesive group than as disparate generations.
Promoting Respect in the Workplace
One of your responsibilities (perhaps your primary responsibility) as a manager is to unite your employees and motivate them to achieve common goals. By fostering diversity, inclusion, and respect for all ages, you make it possible for them to combine the power of experience with the boldness of new thinking in new approaches to getting things done and encouraging future innovation.
As I’ve stated before, the best way to bring about a change is to lead by example—and promoting respect among team members is no exception. Want your employees to respect each other? Then you need to demonstrate that respect yourself.
- Think before you speak. When you’re a manager, your words have the power to nurture—or squash—someone’s enthusiasm. Acknowledge the validity of the other person’s thoughts, even your answer to his or her proposition is no.
- Encourage diverse opinions. Nothing is worse than when a meeting in which everyone agrees to a plan of action is followed by someone later saying that they weren’t on board with the plan. Create an environment in which diverse options are welcome.
- Manage conflict in a constructive manner. Conflict happens everywhere—including in even the best of departments and organizations. The moment two people have different ideas on how to accomplish a task, you’ve got conflict. Don’t allow yourself to lose control and give in to frustration (which can in turn lead to angry outbursts). Instead, view conflict as an opportunity to hear different (possibly better) ideas on how to solve a problem. Don’t let emotions get in the way of constructive discourse.
- Don’t be disrespectful to people who do jobs you consider “beneath you” in the organizational hierarchy. Everyone in the organization is important. In a recent workshop I conducted on inclusion, an executive was about to provide input on respecting others when a lower-level staffer offered her a microphone. She summarily dismissed him with a wave of her hand and a dirty look, saying, “I don’t need that.” It took all of my self-control not to point out that she had just disrespected someone who was simply doing his job.
- Don’t engage in gossip or negative conversations about your organization. As a manager, you represent your company—both in the office and outside the organization’s walls. Gossip is rarely positive, and it breaks down respect for other employees. And if you truly don’t like your company, perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere.
- Rely on facts, not on suppositions. It’s easy to make assumptions about what people mean, particularly when they communicate via text message or e-mail (where tone is very difficult to ascertain). Rather than jump to conclusions, gather relevant data and verify someone’s intent before acting on what you think he or she means.
- Ask how employees want to be treated. Once again, don’t make assumptions. (Always keep in mind the old saying about the word assume. . . ) Don’t shy away from your differences, particularly if you and an employee are of different generations; instead, discuss how you can come together to accomplish what needs to get done.
- Work to eliminate stereotypes and other negative generalizations. Rather than let differences drive wedges between people from different groups, address such differences constructively and treat them as learning opportunities.
- Be a stellar communicator. Simply understanding differences (or any kind) won’t make them go away or eliminate any problems related to them. Use your words and influence to help others in the organization reach those understandings—and build positive connections with each other—as well.
In summary, if you want to have a successful organization, you need to promote inclusivity. And if you want inclusivity, you need an environment of respect. And to get respect, you have to give respect. As a manager, you have to be the role model who can put all the puzzle pieces together to reveal a beautiful image: a strong company that celebrates the strengths of its employees and uses community and respect as bridges to success.