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How to Successfully Manage Four Very Different Generations

How to Successfully Manage Four Very Different Generations

by Linda Balmer

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The make-up of the workforce has changed. With four different generations now working alongside each other, organisations have more generational diversity than ever before. One of the results of this is a newly coined term, the “Multigenerational Workforce.” The idea is that increased diversity presents a great challenge to employers. Different generations have different motivators and needs in the workplace, which has the potential to cause conflict within teams. But is this really the case, or could it in fact be an opportunity for your business?

Moving Beyond Stereotypes

Currently, four different generations are a part of the office environment: Baby Boomers (born before 1966), Gen X (born 1967-1981) and the Millennials (or “Gen Y,” born 1982-1994), with “Gen Z” (born 1995 onwards) closely following behind.

In reality, multigenerational workforces are nothing new, people from different generations have always worked alongside each other. However, the current scenario is slightly different. At one end of the spectrum, we’re seeing older workers stay in their roles for longer, working past retirement age as the perception and reality of retirement changes. At the other end, Gen-Z, due to technology advances, are entering the workforce with completely new skills and workplace expectations.

This is just one of the factors that has contributed to the idea that employees in this new Multigenerational Workforce should be managed differently depending on their generation. However, the idea that employees should be broken down by generation, with specific incentives put in place for each one, seems to be too broad of a stroke – especially if these are based on common stereotypes. For example, although Millennials are often referenced as being career-entitled job hoppers, some research suggests otherwise. In reality, much like common sense would seem to indicate, looking at engagement or incentive strategies through the lens of a generation doesn’t adequately account for the needs of individuals – even if those generations are properly researched!

This is not to say that there aren’t different values, attitudes and behaviours across generations. Each generation comes from a different era, and are informed by different backgrounds. It’s understandable that employers might be concerned about these differences, and the conflicts they could possibly create. Just the perception amongst employees that these differences exist makes them into a reality that needs to be managed, so it’s important to get ahead of the situation.

Making a Multigenerational Workforce Work for You

When it comes to recruiting new team members, one of the best methods available to ensure generational differences aren’t an issue in your workforce is to assess applicants on behaviours, attitude, achievement orientation and competencies, rather than the generation the person was born in.

Additionally, instead of seeing the generational differences as a potential problem, you can use them to your advantage for both your company and team. True diversity within organisations is all about diversity of thought, and one big upside to having a multigenerational workforce is that each generation provides specific and varying perspectives. Using this wide range of thoughts and opinions can enable your team to solve problems collaboratively and creatively, and will help you in getting the most out of each person’s key skills, thus achieving better business outcomes.

For example, your Baby Boomers will likely have the greatest commercial experience, so to take advantage of this many firms are now encouraging them to take on a mentoring role for younger employees. By putting the two together, you can have one of your subject matter experts transfer their knowledge to junior staff, increasing skill level across the business and creating an instant succession plan for your company. At the same time, the mentor themselves may also walk away with new skills; picking up further digital literacy or a better insight into millennial consumer behaviours from their younger colleagues.

Summary

As an employer, it’s important to take on feedback from your people and recognise that each employee may need different incentives or work arrangements to get the best out of them – but that’s the case no matter what generation they are. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to your workforce, so communicate with your people and work with them to build the best plan for everyone. This type of interaction is much more effective and can help employees feel more connected, as opposed to stereotyping them, which can have a negative impact on your team’s interactions with one another.

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