|Managing a Workforce of Multiple Generations|
For the first time in history, five generations—traditionalists, baby boomers, millennials, Gen X and Gen 2020—will soon be working side by side. Whether this multigenerational working environment feels productive and energizing or challenging and stressful is up to the organization’s leadership. Ideas to keep in mind are how to relate to employees from different age groups and how to motivate and encourage employees.
Straight From the Experts
As people work for longer periods of time, internal career paths start to change. It’s becoming common to see someone younger managing someone older, which can lead to tension on both sides. “It’s important to be aware of general tension among colleagues,” says Jeanne C. Meister, a founding partner of Future WorkPlace—an executive development firm. “It’s your job to help your employees recognize that they have distinct sets of different things they bring to the table.”
Don’t Dwell on Differences
Generational stereotypes abound both inside and outside of the working environment. However, creating generation-based employee affinity groups is not beneficial to your organization, instead get to know each person individually as opposed to lumping them into a group with people their age.
Build Beneficial Relationships
Managing someone older than you can seem like a daunting task, but it’s something the military routinely practices. The way to make this successful is to make the older employee a partner—involve them in everything you do, as well as hearing them out. You’re still making the decisions, but this way they feel involved. This type of collaborative effort also works well in managing workers in their 20s. Encourage debate to ease the transition from school to the workplace.
Study Your Employees
By studying the demographics of your employees, you can determine what they want out of their jobs and how these desires differ (or not) from generation to generation. Conducting a survey inquiring about communication styles, career goals and other topics is a low-cost way to get a pulse on your workforce. Figure out what matters to different groups of employees and what you can do to attract younger or more experienced workers; it’s an easy way to discover potential generational career issues.
Engage in Cross-Generational Mentoring
Pairing younger workers with experienced employees to work on business objectives—typically revolving around technology—is becoming more prevalent in companies across the nation. The younger employee can teach the older worker about social media, while the seasoned employee can share institutional knowledge with the young worker. Studies show colleagues learn more from each other than they would in formal training. Mixed-age work teams are another way to foster cross-generational mentoring.
Consider Work Goals
Keep in mind where your employees are at in their lives and what their needs are when it comes to inspiring and incentivizing them. Younger people may not have many outside responsibilities—they are motived by new experiences and opportunities. Employees in their 30s and 40s often have children and mortgages and need flexibility as well as advancement opportunities; while those at the end of their careers may not be as interested in training but would enjoy a strong work-life balance. Understanding these desires will go a long way in figuring out how to challenge and motivate employees.
—Adapted from “Managing People From 5 Generations,” by Rebecca Knight, Harvard Business Review Blog Network