Generational Teamwork: Going Beyond Labels to Strengthen Your Culture

In May 2019, I was invited to participate in at National Academy of Sciences on a panel about Generational Issues at Work (“Trends in Workforce Management: Are Generational Labels Meaningful?”), along with experts from Pew Research, Deloitte, the CIA and major universities. One of our biggest discussion points was the inaccuracy of generational stereotypes and labels.

The big mistake many of us have made up to now? Labeling the generations of our coworkers and employees

It’s become all too common in the workplace for generations to label each other according to our age ranges: Millennial, Gen Z, Boomer, Gen X…

Here’s why we think is good: We think labels are helpful.

Because we’ve heard these labels many times, we think they’re real things.

“Oh, I know some Millennials!” or “My boss is a boomer!”

But is everyone in a generation the same? Of course not.

Let’s take this discussion to another diversity/inclusion issue just for comparison: Are all women or men the same?

Of course not.

Many people think generational labels are useful. But what if they’re causing more problems than they’re solving?

The Reality: Generational labels have a dark side.

Labels they divide us, and they keep your teams and work culture from working together being everything they can be.

People can project their frustration and anger onto these labels. More “us and them” divides are created, and we already have enough of those, don’t we?

When I keynote or do workshops on generational topics, I find that just bringing up generational labels can cause a lot of friction! There can be a lot of bottled-up emotion centered with these labels, and there are better ways to address the issues.

The truth is, age group stereotypes are a form of ageism. We would never talk about racist or sexist stereotypes with fascination, so why does it make sense to do that with age groups?

It doesn’t.

The Solution: The Platinum Rule.

The golden rule says, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” This is a flawed concept, because each of us wants slightly different things.

The platinum rule says, “Treat others the way THEY want to be treated.” This requires a bit more work, but it’s what we all really want.

  • Treat people as individuals. Treat them the way they want to be treated.
  • Talk to them. Listen to them. Engage them.
  • Be flexible with your policies and culture. 

And with everything you do, align on shared values and goals.

The Benefits: Productivity, Retention & Attraction.

When your culture is based on values and goals, and when everyone is open, communicative and works together, your productivity increases and so does retention.

With good inter-generational teamwork, your company becomes the kind of place more people want to work. Today’s low unemployment rates have created a Talent War where it’s hard to attract good talent, and it’s easy to lose it, so you need an attractive work culture to remain competitive, and an ageist culture just won’t do the trick.

If you have an event or organization that wants more generational teamwork or leadership insights, see Brian’s Generational Keynotes, Breakouts and Workshops here:

Brian Carter is a popular speaker and bestselling author selected to be IBM Futurist and recognized by LinkedIn as “an expert you should listen to.” In his 20 years of business success, Brian has worked with organizations of all sizes, including Microsoft, NBC, Salesforce, JP Morgan, Humana and The U.S. Army. His frequent media appearances include Bloomberg TV, ABC, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, AdWeek and The New York Times.

A trusted expert and influencer for a decade, Brian has taught 50,000 students in topics including sales, generational differences, social media, customer service, leadership, teamwork and marketing. He has 250,000 online fans and reaches an overall audience of over 3 million people each year. Brian’s ideas and insights come from 20 years of trailblazing work in the modern business world, up-to-date experience and deep case-studies. His hands-on, consultative and speaking work with 100’s of companies in 25 industries means you get unrivaled expertise by collaborating with him.

Brian’s business experience, cutting-edge insights, and stand-up comedy background culminate in a keynote speaker who leaves every audience entertained, motivated and armed with powerful strategies and tactics.