Learn how to go about managing a cross-generational workforce from understanding the different generations of employees to developing useful strategies for managing an age-diverse workforce…
Managers in many organisations are increasingly having to grapple with the challenge of managing different generations in their workforces. Currently, the average workforce consists of at least three generations that include Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and the newest arrivals, the Millennials.
Regardless of your age, if you’re sitting at the head of the table as the manager, everybody will expect you to keep misunderstandings between the different generations in the workplace from turning into full-blown office feuds. In addition to managing conflict in your age-diverse workforce, it’s also your duty as a manager to keep everyone motivated, productive and engaged in their work; something that is easier said than done considering the different priorities and values that cut across the different generations of workers.
From the introduction, it might seem like age diversity in the workplace is a bad thing; far from it. Having a good generation mix in your workforce creates a professional environment that is rich with maturity and experience as well as youthful exuberance. Organisations that hire from a wide age bracket create a dynamic, multi-generational workforce that’s essential to the long-term success of any company.
Since having a workforce that spans multiple generations is actually beneficial to your business (and at the very least, unavoidable), it’s crucial that you understand how to ensure that your employees rise above their age differences and pull together to accomplish the goals of the organisation.
In essence, we are all the same – humans. Our experiences, however, are what make us different: they shape the way we interact with others, our values, how we prioritise our values, how we back up our values, and generally who we are. These experiences vary depending on the place and time in history you grew up in. It’s these different experiences that make people from different generations differ in the way they think and behave.
The three generations currently working in the typical workplace are:
- Millennials (Age 19-34). To many from the older generations, millennials seem to be social-media crazed and self-absorbed, but their contribution to the workplace is invaluable. This group of employees grew up with a lot of exposure to advanced technology, unlike their older counterparts. This makes them the ultimate tech junkies with the ability to grasp technological concepts without breaking a sweat. This group is not only technologically savvy, but they’re also good at multitasking and will, more often than not, be more empathetic and understanding of the service expectations of customers.
- Generation X (Age 35-55). Millennials might be getting all the buzz, but it’s the generation Xers that make up the largest percentage of the working population at about 60%. They are well-educated, loyal, experienced and can think creatively.
Because this generation grew up at the onset of the computer age, they’ve become accustomed to the technological landscape which means that they can fluidly integrate with their colleagues from the millennial generation. This group can, at the same time, relate to the technological inexperience of the baby boomers. This makes them very versatile and good at generating revenue.
- Baby Boomers (Age 56-69). These are the oldest members of the workforce. They are tough, work like a well-oiled machine, and possess a wealth of experience. Baby Boomers have a strong work ethic, are very competitive, excel at face-to-face communication, believe in structure and hierarchy, and can be excellent role models for the younger generations of workers.
As is always the case with demographics, the characteristics of the different generations are stereotypes and generalisations meant to understand the overall trend and not specific situations – different people will behave differently regardless of their age group.
When it comes to managing a workforce with individuals spanning several generations, the key is ensuring that you effectively address and take advantage of the differences in expectations and values of each generation.
Here’re some useful strategies that you can use to manage a multi-generational workforce:
- Encourage cross-generational interactions. Conflict between different generations will arise when different age groups work exclusively among themselves. Encourage people of different ages to work together by creating age diverse teams and promoting mentorship programs between the younger and older generations. With this kind of frequent interactions, the younger employees will learn to seek wisdom and experience from their senior workmates while the older employees will learn to be more open and accepting to the perspectives of their younger colleagues.
- Offer different working options. When you are managing a multi-generational workforce, avoid focusing on the how and instead focus on the results. Providing options such as working offsite and telecommuting gives your employees flexibility and enables you to measure their success on the same scale regardless of where they want to work from.
- Be accommodating to different learning styles. While baby boomers might be more receptive to traditional and static training methods such as handbooks and PowerPoint presentations, younger workers may find methods of learning that are more interactive and technology-based to be more effective. Make sure to cater to the needs of each group of employees.
- Keep your employees engaged. Provide regular training, educational opportunities and career advice to keep all your employees interested in the company. You can fuel the high expectations of the ambitious millennials in your workforce by giving them special assignments outside their job descriptions.
- Avoid routines. Experts reckon that Generation Xers and Millennials dislike the formality of regular meetings, more so when there’s nothing to be discussed. Gather people for meetings only when it is necessary. Also, keep switching up individual assignments to avoid too much repetition of tasks.
- Create recognition programs. For Generation Xers, a simple gesture like a congratulatory email or a pat on the back can help boost productivity. Boomers are more likely to respond to rewards that elevate their status such as an office-wide memo announcing that they’re meeting or exceeding their goals. Millennials, on the other hand, may be in search of approval and validation and would, therefore, appreciate additional training opportunities and increased responsibility. When recognising the efforts of outstanding employees, make sure to use a method that resonates with them.
- Accommodate different employee needs. Each generation of employees will be at a different stage of life and might require some scheduling flexibility to manage their personal time. Boomers might want to work fewer hours in exchange for lesser pay as they approach retirement, Generation Xers might want time to attend to family matters, while Millennials might need time to pursue further education and training. Make sure to provide the flexibility each generation of employee needs to focus on other important aspects of their lives.
- Listen to all employees. Make sure all your employees have an equal opportunity to present their ideas, complaints and concerns regardless of their age or tenure. Encourage people to air their views and opinions and give everyone’s contribution equal consideration.
- Personalise communication. Avoid using a blanket communication strategy for all your employees. Boomers might prefer communicating in person or by phone while your millennial employees may be more accustomed to texting, emailing or using instant messages. Find out what your individual employees prefer and use that channel to communicate with them.
- Don’t take character issues to be generational traits. Character issues such as laziness, intractability and immaturity should not be confused for generational traits. Even stereotypes always have exceptions, so take the time to understand each and every employee before your box them in wide generalisations.
Having an age-diverse workforce is key to the long-term success and continuity of any business. It’s, therefore, crucial for managers to ensure they manage their multi-generational workforce effectively to ensure the goals of the organisation are met and that the workers are happy and engaged in their work.
23rd April 2019