I know this is dating myself but when I first entered the workforce there were no named generations nor sensitivity to how each generation was managed or interacted with each other in the workplace.
There was the well known “generation gap” between kids and their parents but that somehow disappeared when kids got married and started a family of their own – they finally “got” what their parents always preached. Entering the workforce meant submitting to the authority of (usually) someone older than yourself and working hard with the hopes of keeping a job.
However, managing generational differences in the workplace today is a very real issue with any size or type of organization. Managing the needs, desires and expectations of a multi-generational mix of employees, or volunteers, can be a very daunting task – so having a strategy can help alleviate some of the associated issues.
The four generations in the workforce today include:
- Traditionalists, or the Silent Generation, are those people who were born before 1946. This is a group of people who lived through the depression, high unemployment and poverty – just having a job was of great value to them.
- The Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 and are known for a strong work ethic, job loyalty, climbing the ladder and face-to-face conversations.
- Generation X are those who were born between 1965 and 1980. This group is associated with hard work that is coupled with work-life balance. They can be a cynical group that is determined to “fix” the things that the Boomers messed up.
- The Millennials, or Generation Y, were born after 1980 and are the technology generation that asks the question why, look for answers across the globe, seek constant feedback and value relationships – but not necessarily face-to-face.
These four very different generations bring vast diversity to the workplace and this creates a need to balance the employment experience. Communication, productivity and managing performance should be structured to meet the needs of each generation. This is done by identifying similarities amongst the groups and utilizing the strengths of each generation. This is a delicate balance, but if done well, can blend the strengths of each generation and contribute to a productive and effective workforce.
3 Strategies to Managing a Multi-generational Workforce
1. Choose the Right Communication Approach
Each generation has different approaches and preferences for communication. A good strategy would include incorporating the communication preferences of all four generations. For example, Baby Boomers love face-to-face communication whereas the Millennials are content with electronic communication. Create a communication process that seeks out communication preferences and utilizes multiple avenues for communicating to employees. This would include electronic, text, written and face-to-face interactions.
2. Create an Environment Conducive to Productivity
Every generation has differences in what motivates them to be productive. Employers should allow flexibility in schedules and create systems to monitor productivity. Giving employees options such as flexible work schedules, working from home or a combination of both may provide the right atmosphere to maximize worker productivity. Very often the mere office environment creates distractions that hinder productivity.
3. Manage and Monitor Performance
Successful organizations understand the importance of performance management and that the best way to accomplish business goals is to monitor what work is getting done as compared to what needs to be accomplished. Creating a structured process for managing performance can provide the infrastructure to set expectations, develop goals and monitor goal attainment.
Regardless of the generation of employees, organizations need to accomplish goals and objectives to be successful. Smart organizations develop systems and processes that take into consideration the diversity associated with a multi-generational workforce and create environments that are conducive to productivity for each group. This approach can be an effective and distinct advantage over the competition.
photo by: vlauria