The only compulsory aspect about the exchange is that after the initial interaction there has to be one follow-up; there’s no commitment to become lifelong friends or to meet a set number of times a year. It’s all meant to progress naturally. To Silverglate, putting together people who have common interests is an effective way to get beyond the labels and stereotypes that generations have about each other. “The reality is, we are more similar than different,” he says. “We care about the same things: We care about providing for our families; we care about doing work that we are passionate about and interested in. So if you can erase the ‘Kids are crazy these days; they want everything on their own terms,’ and get to ‘Hey, these people are a lot more like us,’ then you will be able to deal with nuances and differences a lot better.”

It's not just what a reward is that matters, it's also how fast it comes. Boomers and ­Traditionalists are accustomed to a yearly bonus and performance review. Younger employees, though, often need feedback more quickly, having become used to it in their everyday lives. At Pitney Bowes, they've instituted a rapid rewards program, where managers can award bonuses based on the success of a particular project. "I think the X and Y generations respond very well to that direct feedback and that recognition of success," says Johnson. "It gets them away from feeling they have to pay their dues in order to be successful."

Mutually Assured Understanding
When devising policies that have a ­company-wide impact, like those designating rewards and flex time, Stillman advocates including representatives from all generations. And to be blunt, that's really what successful intergenerational management is all about: fostering real communication and understanding between people of different ages. It's not about one group being right and the other being wrong, and it's certainly not about older workers reconfiguring the way they do everything to conform to the demands of early-career employees.

That's one of the lessons that Stephanie Miller at the Sutter Gould Medical Foundation took home from a seminar led by BridgeWorks. It was enough of an "a-ha" moment, in fact, for her to begin rolling out classes so workers of different ages could understand each other better. "We hope they'll appreciate the differences rather than focusing on them as something negative," she says. "That can only help to strengthen the teams."

There are advantages and opportunities for companies that do this well. In her work for the Pittsburgh-based consultancy Key Group, Joanne G. Sujansky helps businesses get the most out of the diversity of their workforce. To her, having multiple generations working together is a boon in many areas, including creativity. "The reality is that a heterogeneous workforce brings wonderful things to idea generation," she says. "What we say is don't just invite diversity to the table, tap it and employ it. Some of these younger folks that come into the workplace are never a part of brainstorming. What a waste." Sujansky also believes that including people of different generations in every facet of a business can be particularly helpful when it comes to meeting the needs of multigenerational customers.

Promoting intergenerational understanding, then, can be very profitable. Making connections between employees of ­different ages, though, can be tricky. Mentoring is one way to do it, but when it's forced and regimented, it can be awkward and unproductive. At Deloitte & Touche, they're taking the basic concept of mentoring and giving it a slightly different spin, one they hope will boost intergenerational ties. With some 35,000 employees across the United States, Deloitte has workers that represent four generations: Most of its staff-level people are Generation Y, managers and senior managers are Generation X, and partners are primarily Baby Boomers, with a few Traditionalists still in the mix.

Paul Silverglate says Deloitte is developing what he calls a "mentor exchange" as a way to connect younger workers - who he believes crave a relationship with the people who impact their careers - with more senior partners. Rather than just picking names of partners and staff out of a hat and forcing them to meet for a half hour each month, Silverglate says the company wanted to instead facilitate more organic connections, ones that are actually based on mutual interests. "It works when it's natural, when both mentor and mentee get benefits from the relationship," he says.

To ensure that's the case, Deloitte has developed a database where staff members list their skills and interests, which vary widely - everything from the ability to program an iPod to cycling to photography to knowledge of the best places to visit in Italy. Partners search the database and seek out staff members they think can help them do something. "Partners reach out to staff and say, 'Hey, I want to learn about cycling, and I understand that you're a cycling specialist,' " says Silverglate. There is a quid pro quo involved. "The staff person goes back to the partner and says, 'Okay, I would like to learn about navigating through the firm.' Or, 'I'd like to learn what career struggles you had and how you got around them,' " he says.

The only compulsory aspect about the exchange is that after the initial interaction there has to be one follow-up; there’s no commitment to become lifelong friends or to meet a set number of times a year. It’s all meant to progress naturally. To Silverglate, putting together people who have common interests is an effective way to get beyond the labels and stereotypes that generations have about each other. “The reality is, we are more similar than different,” he says. “We care about the same things: We care about providing for our families; we care about doing work that we are passionate about and interested in. So if you can erase the ‘Kids are crazy these days; they want everything on their own terms,’ and get to ‘Hey, these people are a lot more like us,’ then you will be able to deal with nuances and differences a lot better.”