Why We Have Obscured Perceptions Towards Workplace Age Differences

A group of workmates watching something in the laptop

We’re frequently reminded about the sharp disparity between the desires and needs of younger and older people in the workplace. These generations, of course, are simply the way they are due to the circumstance that they were born into. Baby boomers grew up in households that endured the Great Depression, continually reminding them of the value of saving money and living modest and honest lifestyles. We can’t blame either party for not seeing eye to eye in terms of social views or attitudes towards money and finance – however, they both comprise the workforce of almost every modern industry in today’s reality.

The widening age gap and growing diversity among individual employees in the work force call for discussions regarding the impact of generational differences on the cohesiveness and efficiency of our organizations. Newer studies have looked into the way we think others may perceive us based on how old we are. For example – a much younger and newer member of a team might worry that other senior members perceive them as clumsy or inefficient, even when it isn’t happening in actuality. A repetitive cycle of misguided perceptions about one’s self and one’s misconceptions towards further fuels and reinforces the unhealthy perception of inaccurate stereotypes and may lead others to begin adapting similar misconceptions and judgements – creating disparity and feelings of alienation among both age groups in any particular industry.

It’s a two-way conversation when discussing this topic, and the book “Patchwork: Conversations Between Generations” by renowned author Carol Wilson-Mack discusses this concept in masterful detail through storytelling. Patchwork encourages to find a way by Carol to utilize her expertise in fellowship and theology, highlighting the positive manners in which youth and elders can benefit and learn from each other through meaningful discourse.

In general, older employees were overall perceived to possess traits such as having a deeper sense of responsibility, maturity, and a more efficient work ethic – but despite this, the baby boomers themselves have bene observed to collectively share concerns regarding others perceiving them as “dull”, “too traditional”, “resistant to change”, or “moody”. Older workers who feel that they fall under these stereotypes tend to wish that others would perceive them in a more positive light.

As you can imagine, the stereotypes portraying younger employees in the workforce involved per-conceived notions of irresponsibility, stubbornness, laziness, a lack of motivation, and the idea that they can’t get something done right the first time without being guided first. In general, many younger workers held generally negative ideas about themselves and were convinced that many senior workers saw them in a derogatory or negative light – which, like the misconceptions that baby boomers are known to have towards themselves and others, is highly subjective in nature but indicative of immense societal disparity in social attitudes that the varying age groups have towards their fellow workmates and their own images in the way they think others perceive them. In general terms, these findings suggest that older and younger employees feel that people perceive them more favorably than they really do. These cases indicate that neither age-related assumptions nor meta-stereotyping are correct.

The dynamic age of the population means that our conventional perception of governance and management is gradually shifting. In addition, workers who have worked in an industry for decades have valuable insights into the organizational structure and customer experience that younger administrators could benefit from.

When it comes to handling an older employee or staff member, it may feel difficult to focus on them in an attempt to demonstrate one’s leadership, but it is all the more necessary because it demonstrates that you value the expertise of your team members and set the standard for a variety of other experiences within the company. It is easy to handle an elderly worker with unnecessarily careful deference by not requesting for their approval for a small initiative or mission, but this can cause them to feel as unwelcome just as much as deliberately undermining their knowledge.

What administrators don’t often understand is that individual workers have varying motivations. So, when setting priorities and benefits, consider how certain workers might perceive a problem. A divide between the two will emerge when a team opportunity is more targeted towards one age group than the other.

Managers will benefit from understanding that workers frequently shift mindsets and evolve over time due to changing expectations, needs, expertise and physical capacity. Such adjustments may take several forms. Analysis has shown, for example, that people experience various forms of work-family tension at different points of their life, from young adults to middle-aged and late adults. Nevertheless, not every worker of the same generation would have the same encounter at the very same precise moment – which is another testament to the complexity of generational diversity in the workplace.

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