Be a Multi-Generational Leader

From millennials to baby boomers, from Gen X to Gen Z—how to star among coworkers of all ages

Jeanne Meister might as well have a Ph.D. in Generation Z: The Harvard Business Review blogger founded Future Workplace, a development firm that helps companies reimagine their work environments. Here are her strategies for bridging the generation gap.

1. Respect your differences (and capitalize on them). "Older workers have to be proactive in tackling misconceptions about younger workers, like they're entitled or lazy. Realize they have a different skill set and ask them to leverage it, whether it's through introducing you to a new computer program or asking for feedback about a product in development," advises Meister who co-authored 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop & Keep Tomorrow's Employees Today. By the same token, don't be afraid to share your own hard-earned wisdom about navigating difficult conversations, how to approach senior management, or balancing work and life. "Both generations have plenty to bring to the table," Meister says.

2. Use mixed-age teams. If you're in charge of a project, make sure your group varies in age. "Be conscious of setting up cross-functional teams that have different strengths and that enable younger workers to interact with more seasoned ones. This is an organic way for differently aged workers to share strengths," Meister says. It also helps millennials feel invested in their work.

3. Form an affinity group. Meister is a big fan of these groups, which bring clusters of colleagues together regularly during work hours to discuss common interests. Usually these meetings are low-stress powwows that allow workers to show their human side and air a few gripes. Affinity groups can talk about any shared experience, whether it's parenthood or struggling with eldercare. A cross-generational affinity group can address ways to work together productively and nip miscommunications in the bud.

4. Create a workplace mentorship program. If your company doesn't already have one, take the initiative to start a program that pairs seasoned workers with new hires. "This is called reciprocal mentoring, and it's really the wave of the future for retaining talent," Meister says. "The millennial can explain the value of social media or introduce the older worker to new technologies; a senior worker can share bigger-picture concepts, like the company's long-term goals, strategies, and possible career paths."