By Anne Evenson
Avoid conflicts and reap the rewards of having a team with a variety of generational perspectives!
“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”
Henry David Thoreau, Poet and Philosopher
Organizations with a generationally diverse workforce benefit from a broad spectrum of skills and expertise. However, managing a multigenerational team can be challenging because professionals from different generations often have their own work styles. Before we address the best practices for managing a multigenerational workforce, let’s discuss each generation’s defining attributes.
The Silent Generation was born between 1925 and 1945, and many experienced scarcities during the Great Depression and World War II. They consider work a privilege and believe that promotion is the result of hard work. Although most have retired from the workforce, some of these traditionalists still hold positions as partners, board members, professor’s emeritus or act in other advisory capacities.
Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 and are in their late fifties to mid-seventies. After World War II, Americans enjoyed newfound economic prosperity. Colleges overflowed, and competition for entry-level jobs was fierce, making boomers more competitive and resourceful. These workaholics made great sacrifices to advance in their careers. They often desire structure and discipline and are less inclined to welcome change. They are confident and purposeful and make excellent mentors. Though many baby boomers have reached retirement age, many prefer to remain employed.
Members of Generation X were born between 1965 and 1980 and are in their early forties to mid-fifties. They grew up with minimal adult supervision and tend to be adaptable and self-reliant. These resilient individualists have successfully straddled the technology divide. The lack of internet and technology in their early lives allowed them to hone their interpersonal skills. This hybrid relationship with technology positively affected how Gen Xers form relationships, conduct business and collaborate in the workplace. They are champions of work-life balance as many are simultaneously caring for their children and parents.
Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996 and are in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties. They were the first generation to spend their developmental years on the internet and mobile devices. This early familiarity with technology resulted in millennials being more receptive to technological tools that improve their efficiency and productivity. They value autonomy and recognition and are more likely to be impressed by an organization’s positive reputation than its size or longevity. Millennials are currently the largest segment of the U.S. workforce.
Members of Generation Z, also known as iGen (short for iGeneration), were born between 1997 and 2012 and range from age 9 to 24. They are often known as “digital natives” because they were born and raised in the era of ubiquitous digital technology. Many saw their parents struggle to survive during the Great Recession and witnessed the evolution of startup culture and the gig economy. Gen Zers have a creative, entrepreneurial work style and are often motivated by self-improvement. This most recent addition to the workforce is the most diverse, unbiased and technologically savvy generation.
Now that you understand each generation’s characteristics, consider the following strategies for managing your multigenerational teams.
To respect and collaborate successfully with other generations, managers must appreciate that individuals have different requirements. Overlooking differences or treating everyone in the same manner will leave some team members feeling devalued. Engage frequently with your direct reports to understand their unique experiences, preferred work styles and motivations.
Emphasize the Big Picture
Recognize how each employee contributes to organizational achievements and success to provide more meaningful recognition and appreciation. Remind your team that everyone is working towards the same goals despite having different styles and techniques. This approach fosters a sense of camaraderie and allows you to unite as a team to evaluate challenges and celebrate victories.
Equip Your Team for Success
Provide adequate resources, training and tools so your team can do their jobs well and productively. Promote learning and development opportunities and create mentorships within your team that encourage feedback from the mentees. Break down generational silos by assembling workgroups with employees who have complementary skills and diverse perspectives.
Combat Ageism and Stereotypes
It’s easy to stereotype people based on their generation. For instance, Gen Z might assume that baby boomers can’t learn new skills or technologies. To Gen X, millennials may seem tech-obsessed or lacking in social skills. Everyone is different, so instead of expecting the worst, fight your unconscious bias by proactively learning about individuals rather than labeling them as “typical” of a specific age demographic. Successful managers understand the wide range of experiences and perspectives of their direct reports, preventing potential ageism.
Provide Flexible Solutions
Offer flexible hours, remote work options or unique workspaces to enable individuals to find the work style most suited to their requirements. For some, this could be a better familial arrangement, and for others, this could provide a smoother transition to retirement. Extending opportunities for flexibility is an affordable and creative way to satisfy a variety of unique employee requests.
While there are various methods to managing age diversity in any organization, the most important thing managers can do is listen. The more you understand your team, the better you can provide them with the tools they need for optimum performance. Remember to ask questions, challenge your assumptions and acknowledge each person’s contributions.
Anne Evenson is a marketing specialist and copy editor working in Austin, Texas. She holds a BFA in Fibers and Printmaking from the Kansas City Art Institute.
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