Bridging Gaps in a Multi-Generation Workplace

From the 18 year old intern to the 65 year old senior manager, every generation brings with them their own attitudes, mindsets and experiences to the workplace.

What we can all agree on is that there is no single approach to managing them all. In many organisations today, five generations are working side by side. They are the Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z. Each generation has widely differing sets of expectations and perceptions of what the working environment will be like, how they should behave as employees, how managers will manage them and how they will work with others. Working with different generations is fairly common and meeting people’s individual needs requires adjusting how you deal with each person. One size does not fit all. 

How can we bridge gaps in the multi-generation workforce?

Baby Boomers (Born between 1945-1964)

Click here for a video on "How to engage Baby Boomers at Work"

Every generation adds value to the organization. Even though Baby Boomers prepare to retire, they should not be ignored. They have the experience that can provide good perspective for the decisions you have to make. They have overcome many obstacles and build up tenacity that can help your organization meet new challenges. One way to tap on Baby Boomers is to make them mentors. When baby boomers train and mentors the younger employees, his hard earned “tricks of the trade” will not be lost when he leaves. The less experienced employees stand to gain as they will receive guidance and wisdom from technical know-hows to operational issues to organizational politics. Baby boomers know what has worked and what has failed. They have reached a point where they want to give back to society, hence offering them mentorship opportunities allow them to serve the company and feel motivated in their work.

In addition, most managers have to oversee people who are older than they are. If you are a Generation X or Millennial who has to manage Baby Boomers on your team, acknowledge and respect their experience by asking for advice. Focus on the work and ask legitimate questions that acknowledge the older person’s experience. This will also allow you to capture the knowledge they possess so all is not lost when they retire. Continually connect knowledge transfer efforts to business outcomes. You can minimize the costs of brain drain and determine options and tactics for transferring essential knowledge from the Baby Boomers to the other employees. More importantly, successfully working with Baby Boomers means keeping them motivated and excited about their jobs. Communicate with them to ensure that they align with the goals of the organization and give them the support they need to continue to perform at the highest levels.

Generation X (Born between 1965-1981)

Watch a video on "How to engage Generation X workers"

The term “latchkey” kid became common to describe Generation X as they grew up in an environment as their working parents left them alone after school. Unlike Baby Boomers, who often put work ahead of family, Generation X employees want a balance between the two. Thus offering flexible work options is key to attracting and keeping them. If they cannot get it from you, they will look for it from another employer. As they have been trained to be independent since young, they have little tolerance for rules that make no sense to them. They are used to taking charge of situations and getting to what needs to be done. Challenge Generation X with opportunities to manage multiple projects, work on cross-functional teams and involvement with volunteer projects to keep things moving and engaged for them.

Furthermore, allow Generation X the freedom to be themselves as much as the organization will tolerate. No one likes to be micro-managed and Generation X are especially sensitive to it considering that they are the “latchkey kids”. They prefer working on their own to working on a team but are team players when the need arises. They are not loyal to a company like Baby Boomers but can be loyal if the company meets their needs. They get bored easily hence engage them by keeping things moving and offering them flexibility at work.

Millennials (Born between 1981 to 1997)

More than a third of the workforce are Millennials. They grew up with parents who spent time communicating with them and praised them for the smallest achievements. Thus, they are accustomed to getting instant feedback from parents, friends and even video games. Communicate with Millennials often and let them know if they are on track with their work. Feedback does not have to be elaborate and a couple of statements telling them what they have done well or need improvement is all they ask for. Be sincere and specific when offering praise to Millennials. While Millennials do not have to be coddled, they need to understand what they need from you to success. Hence, as managers, be specific with the job role and expectations.

While Baby Boomers live to work, Generation X work to live, Millennials blend work and life as one. The ability to plan their own time and work on a flexible schedule is a major motivator for the Millennials. You could identify one with headphones on listening to music, scrolling his Instagram page and working on his sales report simultaneously at a coffeehouse on any given weekday. While not all organisations or job roles can be flexible, examine how flexibility can be offered. Does it have to be a 9-5 job? Could some part of the work be done virtually? The more options you can offer to Millennials who can show you that they are responsible enough to handle them, the more likely they will stay loyal and go the extra distance for you.

Working with Millennials? This video will show you"How to engage Millennials at Work"

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Generation Z (1997- early 2000s)

This generation of workers were born in the times of financial and political instability, hence they are more interested in job stability more than the Millennials. They are also the generation who are highly tech savvy, given their reliance on the internet and smart phones. While the oldest workers in this age group may be in their early 20s, they are comfortable with technology and know their way around it. They are the hatchlings in the workplace and are still trying to figure out how to behave or act. They look to other generations for examples. If you want them to come on time, get to work on time. If you want them to go the extra mile for clients, make sure they see you do the same. Give them clear directions about what you expect from them. Know the job you want them to perform and set clear expectations about what work they are required to deliver. The most important thing is to help them settle down and feel comfortable and get them into a routine which they can adapt and master. Reward them often and correct them immediately when they need as they are the “instant gratification kids”.

Companies can no longer abide by traditional rules of management and leadership in the workplace. With offices encompassing multiple generations of employees, there are new set of challenges and conflicts between employees. While it may not be easy building communication, nurturing collaboration and creating long lasting relationships across the different generations, it is essential to understand what drives and motivates each generation to truly uncover their true potential.

We hope that this article is helpful. Do you have any tips you would like to add?

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Topics: Effective Teams