HR Answers: Bridge the generational gap with psychology safety

Assumptions about employees of different generations can cause rifts in the workplace. Focusing instead on common values fosters a culture of inclusion.

There are a few cultural facts about the workplace that can be considered universally true. First, labeling your food in a shared office fridge only sometimes stops that container of delicious Sunday night leftovers from mysteriously disappearing. Second, the passive-aggressive note in the break room that directs co-workers to clean up after themselves will not prevent a few dishes with legacy stains from being left in the sink for days. Third, generational gaps in the workplace can be bridged by focusing less on assigned age characteristics and traits and more on the level of psychological safety each individual feels.

These workplace “truths” reflect not only cultural behaviors and norms but also the level of psychological safety within an organization. A simplified definition of psychological safety is an individual’s ability to be their true authentic self. For individuals to be their authentic self, they need to feel psychologically safe when engaging or expressing themselves, which in turn increases an individual’s sense of inclusion and belonging. Our true authentic self often does not align with the assumptions and stereotypes typically assigned to race, gender and age. Although we cannot solve every employee-related workplace challenge, we can mitigate the negative impact by focusing on psychological safety, especially regarding the challenges associated with having multiple generations in the workplace.

Generations as a social construct

A big challenge with having a cross-generational workforce relates to how each generation is defined and the characteristics and behaviors that are assumed and applied to each generation.


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