Managing Today’s Multi-generational Workforce
Today’s dynamic, rapidly changing work environment means that multiple generations are intersecting in the workforce more than ever. As people retire later in life, four generations are working together, and each has its signature style and expectations. While their diverse outlooks are a valuable asset to any enterprise, managing such a varied team presents challenges.
Experts identify specific characteristics associated with each era. The Silent Generation (born before 1945) tends to be hard-working and loyal–they entered the workforce in an era of long-lasting, stable, predictable career paths. Baby Boomers (1946-1964) tend towards optimism. Generation X workers (1965-1980) often question the dominant paradigm. Millennials (1981-1997) are typically tech-savvy, team-oriented and value work-life balance.
According to Pew Research, Millennials became the largest working demographic in 2015, displacing the formerly dominant Generation X.
The varying work ethics, values and character expressed by each cohort are natural outgrowths of their environment, as they came of age and entered employment under a wide variety of circumstances. For examples, many Millennials witnessed their Boomer parents lose jobs despite great loyalty and sacrifice, cultivating the Millennial devotion to a lifestyle balancing work and personal time.
Managers often find it’s challenging to navigate the spectrum of generational perspectives. It’s important to treat all employees fairly, but they may interpret how they’re treated in radically different ways.
As in all aspects of successful management, good communication is crucial. Consider embracing these practices, beneficial in any work environment, and especially critical with a diverse audience whose ages may span 50 years.
Express expectations clearly, focusing on a few non-negotiable priorities. For example, a flexible workplace might establish core working hours such as 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and allow workers to arrive and leave when it suits them.
When generational differences arise, managers may hesitate to address them because they’re understandably cautious about focusing on age. The key is to diplomatically reframe the conversation to focus on individual work styles or preferences and their natural variance among workers.
Try to be flexible and accommodate the preferred communication practices of your entire workforce. Baby boomers and older Generation Xers are generally accustomed to emails and phone calls, while Millennials embrace texting and instant messaging, along with prodigious use of abbreviations and informal acronyms. It’s important to bridge that gap so all parties feel valued and included, and to avert communication breakdowns. Trainings, ice breakers and team-building exercises can be useful tools.
Generational differences are simply another facet of the great range of individual work and communication styles which are the inevitable result of a diverse company. A broad range of viewpoint and experience is ultimately a great asset to any business. Harnessing these varied perspectives will help your company understand the landscape in which it lies, and the unique strengths your team employs.