Examples of workplace disconnection…
Back in Spring 2021, we conducted 29 in-depth interviews with insights professionals across the age spectrum. We asked our participants about their experiences with disconnection at work:
From a Gen Z: "I think when you're new, there's a certain anxiety around coming off to your manager as not completely knowledgeable about things. Or completely not handling things on your own or being able to handle it."
Some of our youngest workers are worried about how others interpret their actions. Our specific interviewee was worried about her manager developing an undesirable opinion of her if she did not perform perfectly in her role. Over time, she and her manager developed trust and her anxiety went away. She felt comfortable to learn and experiment. She felt like he valued her perspective. It was an empowering experience!
From a Millennial: "I was super depressed when I left [my old company] and didn't realise it. [...] I wasn't getting that real human experience with people and those relationships. I felt that if I was myself, I'd be walking on eggshells."
Many workers feel like they have to mask their natural personalities and conform to social pressures at work to avoid being misunderstood and excluded. Feeling unable to be yourself can hinder one’s ability to make meaningful connections at work. Plus, chronic personality masking has been shown to cause employees to feel dissatisfied with their role and exhausted emotionally and physically. It does not make for a positive employee experience. Our research found that 19% of workers do not feel comfortable being themselves at work.
From a Gen X: “I worked to earn that promotion, and it took me five years. And you want it after three."
This interviewee was frustrated by a younger coworker who thought they deserved a promotion. It’s common for those who worked extra hard and sacrificed for a promotion to feel frustrated toward those they think haven’t. It would be interesting to hear the perspective of the younger employee. Perhaps they are unaware of what others consider reasonable…
From a Baby Boomer: “The younger someone is, the less you have shared experiences, so the harder it is to develop empathy towards them.”
Many of our Baby Boomer participants found it difficult to relate to and empathise with the younger generations because they lacked shared experiences. Another interviewee mentioned that at a certain point, the youngest people at his office no longer picked up on his TV/Movie references. He found this to be disappointing. It made him feel somewhat isolated.
Our interviewee is right… it is difficult to feel empathy for people that we do not relate to. Empathy is an “understanding of how others are feeling and being compassionate toward them”. Feelings are important information! They help us to see, hear, and value other people’s perspectives. Fortunately, there are evidence-based exercises that we can do to raise the amount of empathy we have for those who are different than us (more on that in the next article).
Disconnected workplaces are disadvantaged.
They miss out on the benefits that different perspectives bring, have a higher employee turnover rate, and are not as attractive to prospective employees. Workplace disconnection doesn’t make for a great employee experience either... Would you want to work somewhere that doesn’t take your perspective seriously? Plus, cross-generational teams who consider and value many perspectives have increased motivation and are better at learning. Further, teams who can see, hear, and value multiple perspectives and approaches have been shown to be better at decision making, problem-solving, and performing overall. Bottom line: Connection is good for business.
The third article in our series will explore how we can foster positive experiences and strengthen workplace connection.
Specifically, the article will discuss how we might foster connection, understanding, and empathy across generations at work.
This series is brought to you by Connecting Generations, a research-driven initiative from Thoughtful Research and HauckEye with the mission of sparking connection, understanding, and empathy across generations in the workplace. Connecting Generations offers workshops to teams who want to foster positive work experiences and strengthen their connection. Please visit our website to learn more.
This work features Connecting Generations’ research. In 2021, the team interviewed 29 marketing researchers and surveyed 1000 office workers to learn more about intergenerational disconnection and the workplace experience. We were proud to partner with Veridata Insights to field the survey portion of our study.