The different generations that make up America today reflect diverse characteristics and approaches to life, and that can be particularly evident in a place of work. A multi-generational workforce can be the ideal recipe for success, but it can also lead to pressure cooker situations in which conflict and tension flare-up.
Good management is the key to enhancing the positive aspect of a workforce made up of several generations, and to minimizing chances of conflict. Considering that the typical workplace sees Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z under the same roof, it’s essential that managers and HR staff learn how to navigate this sometimes-challenging situation.
If you can get it right, your work environment is sure to become a vibrant place in which mutual respect and support lead to enhanced productivity.
Understanding The Generations
One of the essential aspects of managing a multi-generational workforce is understanding the different generations. According to trend analysts, each generation acquired various characteristics that were shaped by wider social norms and other influences during their childhood and adolescent years.
This becomes even more important in light of the fact that workplace hierarchies are not determined by age. This means that a Baby Boomer can find themselves reporting to a Millennial; something that the average Baby Boomer may have issues with.
Baby Boomers – 1946-1964
The youngest members of the Baby Boomer generation will turn 65 in 2029, although there is no guarantee that all, or even most, of them will retire at that stage. According to research, a number of Baby Boomers simply do not have enough savings to retire comfortably. Many cannot achieve retirement even with Social Security, which means HR managers are faced with the prospect of an even wider multi-generational workforce in the future.
While there are exceptions, the characteristics usually associated with ‘Boomers’ include:
- strong work ethic
- motivation to work for financial stability
Generation X – 1965-1979
Sandwiched between Baby Boomers known for legendary company loyalty, and highly motivated Millennials, Generation X tends to be an overlooked generation. As research shows, this is not mere conjecture.
The rate of promotion of members of Generation X is between 20% and 30% lower than the rate of promotion of Millennials. This is something that has led to job dissatisfaction in 1 in 5 Gen Xers; something that should be borne in mind when managing a multi-generational workforce.
General characteristics of the generation include:
- potential for leadership
- strong work ethic balanced with a commitment to personal life
- being well to highly educated
Gen Xers also are known for their ability to grasp new technology.
Millennials – 1980-1995
The most prominent generation in most multi-generational workforces, Millennials are no longer underlings, but supervisors, managers, and even directors. Initially characterized by a determination to climb the corporate ladder as quickly as possible, many Millennials are now seeking to balance their work and personal lives. Many are also motivated to seek more job satisfaction.
Apart from their often-parodied ambition and motivation, the general characteristics of Millennials include:
- comfortable with technology
- technical know-how
- good education
- focus on growing their professional lives
Generation Z – 1996-Present
Generation Z is the emergent generation in most multi-generational workforces, and their differences from Millennials is becoming apparent. While the youngest Millennials can be said to be digital natives, the term truly belongs to Generation Z.
The generation was born into a world with technology that preceding generations were introduced to. Their defining characteristics include:
- awareness of multiculturalism and diversity
- purposed learning
- strong entrepreneurial spirit
Managing The Generations
Several factors need to be taken into account if you want to manage a multi-generational workforce effectively. Those factors need to encourage each member of your team to aspire to their most positive aspects while navigating potential sources of tension or conflict.
HR managers should take note of the following advice:
1. One Size Does Not Fit All
Leave the one size fits all approach to Spandex. If you want to manage your team well, adopt a different approach with each person. However, in doing so, you will still want to act within the bounds determined by your company HR policy. Human resource management systems can be hugely helpful in keeping track of employees, stats, and administration. However, you do need to add the personal touch too, to achieve the right balance.
2. Remember Individuality
As tempting as it can be to think of your multi-generational workforce in terms of the stereotypical characteristics of their particular generation, it is essential that you remember you are dealing with individuals.
Seeing employees in terms of their ages is as counterproductive as seeing them as nothing more than an employee number. Each person has their individual personality, strengths, and weaknesses. A good employer or HR manager assesses workers individually, rather than collectively.
3. Acknowledge Preferred Management & Training Styles
The different generations that comprise your workforce are likely to have different ideas of how staff should be managed and how they learn. It is important to acknowledge that and to tailor your approach accordingly.
This is not a sign of weakness on your part; instead, it shows that you are willing to approach people in a way that encourages rather than alienates them.
4. Find Common Ground
Another key aspect of managing a multi-generational workforce is to remember that, as human beings, we have more things in common than things that divide us. Rather than focusing on the perceived differences between the generations, you should emphasize common ground.
This can help older and younger workers see each other through new eyes, gain a new sense of appreciation of their colleagues, and build trust.
5. Collaboration And Mentoring
Creating opportunities for inter-generational collaboration and mentoring can work wonders in a workplace with diverse staff. Getting those from various generations to work on the same project can result in a wealth of expertise and approaches, leading to powerful creative synergy.
Similarly, each generation can be effective in mentoring others. For example, Baby Boomers can share the wisdom of experience, whereas Millennials and Generation Z can offer assistance and insight when it comes to using various technologies such as smart devices, the World Wide Web, and social media.
Regardless of what kind of business you’re running the integral key to managing a multi-generational workforce is to respect everyone’s differences and utilize their strengths in a way that creates a cohesive, top-performing team.