How to deal effectively with age differences in the workplace

Most workplaces have employees that vary in age. One of the most common questions I get - has to do with helping employees and leaders - create cohesive work groups out of teams with large age differences. 

- What requirements do different generations need? 

The big shocker is that there isn’t really much of a difference between generations. They have the same levels of narcissism and emotional problems. They also have similar levels of conscientiousness and stick to itiveness. The big difference actually has to do with social trust. Older people grew up in a time of social investment and as a result – have a lot of social trust. Younger people have been experiencing social disinvestment – so they have low levels of social trust.  This difference in trust may make it seem to an older person that a younger person is less invested. And they may very well be because in their experience, you can’t trust others to follow through on their promises – because society hasn’t.

What younger people need – most companies can’t supply – which is the concept that if they give themselves to the company – the company will reward them for their hard work.  The social trust for that equation – just isn’t quite there for younger people and for good reason.

- How do you avoid workplace conflict and keep everyone happy 

Humanistic communication strategies and a lot of compassion. Everyone has issues. Everyone. The tendency is for people to think they are right and the other person is wrong when a conflict arises. The way around that is to create team cohesiveness. So that everyone sees themselves as part of the same team – working towards a common goal or problem to be solved.  This way – conflicts are seen as disagreement over best course of action as oppose to being seen as life and death struggles for the righteousness of our tribal cause, whatever that is. Disagreements are ok – conflicts are not. Everyone is on the same team getting the same thing done. This means treating everyone with dignity and compassion. If there is a disagreement  - don’t turn it into a conflict. Ask questions so the problem can be solved collaborative. This is true for all groups, not just for groups with age differences.

- How to motivate teams with a mix of generations

Dignity and compassion – for everyone. Foster a culture of social trust and create psychological safety so that people can air disagreements without them blowing up into conflicts. The best solutions are created collaboratively – and that means everyone has input. If you can create a culture where people can pose contrary positions and ideas without being attacked for having different ideas and instead – having those ideas seriously considered, you will create a culture of trust, which will help ensure that disagreements – don’t escalate and that everyone is motivated to contribute because they know their contributions will be welcomed and considered as valid.

And this trust – brings us back to the top. What do people need?  Trust.

To learn more - I have a course on bridging the generation divide – millennials and boomers at Humanist Learning Systems.

Tips to Deal with Conflicts

Ways to deal with conflicts.

Compassion:  A lot of conflict is a result of holding people to impossible standards. Viewing the other person with compassion will help ensure that when a problem arises, you don’t attack in an attempt to fix the problem. Rather you understand that problems happen and work in a collaborative way to resolve the problem.

Don’t get drawn into the drama. If the other person is freaking out – don’t join them. You can listen and be present without it being about you – even if it is directed at you. If the other person is responding to a problem with anger and frustration - accept that that is where they are and respond in a polite, calm, professional way. Focus on problem solving and not on the conflict. This doesn’t mean allowing the other person to walk all over you. It’s more about standing your ground in a compassionate, respectful way – while still working to solve the underlying problem.

Note of caution. These techniques won’t work if the problem isn’t a conflict, but is instead bullying.

I teach how to de-escalate conflicts using behavioral science. Available as a certified online course: or as a book, ebook or audio book:  or as a streaming video or DVD:

I also teach: How to handle cranky customers, using the same behavioral science techniques:

And why conflict resolution doesn’t work when the problem is bullying.

My courses are online at:

How to: Diversity

I teach humanist management and how to use behavioral science to stop things like harassment. Both are at play when we are dealing with diversity issues.  I was recently asked about ways leaders can foster diversity and help teams adjust to change.

First question: Ways for a leader to foster diversity, inclusion, and acceptance within their unit/department/organization. 

Leaders and teams need a variety of inter-related skills to help ensure diversity is achieved.

1. Understanding the value that diversity brings to the team (which is better problem solving)  REALLY  - BETTER PROBLEM SOLVING!!!!!
2. Philosophic understand of how to cope and change their thinking about other people so that they don’t respond negatively – or if they do – they can work through it.
3. Mission focused and intentional integration of viewpoints.  As long as the team is focused on collaborative problem solving, issues with disagreements can be resolved rationally and not devolve into tribal conflicts which then use harassment and bullying to socially exclude a rival idea.
4. Behavior based approaches to bullying and harassment that actually fix the problem. It isn’t enough to say – it’s illegal – don’t do it. It’s not enough to give people culture sensitivity trainings. Aggressive behavior happens and it’s used to socially exclude people to gain power over a group and to control a group. That a) kills diversity as the diverse viewpoints are targeted. And b) it leads to incredibly bad decisions being made.  To fix this – requires a behavioral understanding of how to get unwanted behaviors to stop and how to reward the pro-social behaviors you do want and most importantly – how to handle the  people who resist!!!!!!

Which is why the 2nd question is so important:

2. How to add diversity to a homogeneous team that is also resistant to change.

First – everyone is resistant to change. Even people who want to change resist change. We can’t help it. Resistance is instinctual.  It’s not a sign of people not wanting to change. It’s just – the process people go through to change.  The point is – to help people with change – you have to understand the behavioral dynamic playing out – that is causing the resistance and how to help the team move through the change process quickly and how to identity those most resistant and isolate their – freak out – so it doesn’t impact the rest of the team.   I said this last bit in lay language. In science language – it means – understanding that when you stop rewarding an old behavior – the behavior escalates as the organism tries to get their reward back. As they continue to not get their reward – their resistance escalates until their behavior – explodes – which is called an extinction burst – or blow out. This is predicted to occur. How bad it gets is the variable. Most people – it’s not too bad. Some people – it’s really really really bad.  A cultural change process – to be effective – is going to take all this science based knowledge into account and help the not bad people adjust quickly and identify the really truly resistant so that the really truly resistant aren’t allowed to prevent the rest of the team from making progress.   And again, this is not about value judgements – it’s just – the process that plays out – every. Time. You. Change. Something.

The major way that people resist diversity is through harassment and bullying. So – that’s where pro-active effort has to be taken – to protect those who are going to be targeted are protected and nurtured so they a) stay and so that b) the resistance to their presence is unsuccessful.   Yes – this takes effort. Pro-active effort. Conscientious effort. Time and effort. Which is why – most leaders – even well-meaning leaders – fail.

For those truly dedicated to the project – it can be done – but to give yourself the best chance at succeeding – you need to get training on behavioral modification techniques as they apply to organizational dynamics – paying special attention to how behavioral unlearning manifests in bullying and harassment situations.

And yes – I have training on all of this.

What does ROI Mean to me?

ROI means - return on investment.  This is a question about how I decide what to spend my time on. As a solo-preneur trying to a) make a living and b) have a life - I think about this a lot.

To me ROI means – what value do I personally get out of doing something. The fact I like doing it – may be the value of it.

I do things that don’t pay all the time, because whatever it is – has value to me – even if that value isn’t money. It may be about forwarding a social agenda I have. It may be to go someplace cool.  It may be altruistic – helping someone out. It may be because it seemed like fun. All of that is valuable to me.

I am an solo-preneur. So I do have to guard my time and I do ask myself all the time, what will I get out of this.  I rarely weigh monetary gain in making those decisions. It’s mostly – do I like doing this or not?  Will this be something I enjoy? Or not?  Will this make the world a better place if I do it? Or not? 

That is what ROI means to me. But then – I am a Humanist and am a firm believer that business should be about more than just making money. It should also be about making the world a better place – for individuals and for society. And I conscious choose to consider ALL the things I value (work life balance, social justice issues, helping people, fun and making a living) into my decision making matrix.

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