July 19, 2017

How to Manage a Multi-Generational Workforce

Look around your office and you’ll see colleagues, team members and employees of all ages. Today’s workforce consists of Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and, now entering the workforce, Gen Z. Such a workforce is an advantage to businesses because each generation brings their experience and skills to their jobs. These groups though, have different expectations and needs when it comes to their jobs and management styles.

Before we discuss how to manage the four generations, here’s a general overview of the distinct characteristics that define how each generation works.

Baby Boomers

This is no longer the largest group in the workforce as more are retiring every year. It’s also the last generation who could expect to get a traditional “white collar job” without a university degree and stay with a company for the entirety of their career. They are accustomed to spending their work week in the office, with face-to-face time with managers and colleagues.

Gen X

The so-called “all-about-me’” generation gets ignored in the current debate between Millennials and Boomers, but they’re the ones who created the idea of work-life balance. They’re also the first generation to start job-hopping if they don’t find meaning in their jobs.

Millennials and Gen Z

They are digital-first groups who grew up with the internet, cell phone technology and social media. They’ve also been unfairly accused of job-hopping, being entitled and self-absorbed.

Now that we’ve reviewed the differences between the generations, here’s a curveball. A 2012 study in the Journal of Business and Psychology found that there is little to no meaningful difference between generations when it comes to their work. They all want the same thing: meaningful jobs; trust in the company and leadership; opportunity to grow and improve; and to feel valued by the company. So knowing that, how can you connect with all members of different generations in your company?

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Focus on the individual, not the group

While all the generations want the same thing, how you communicate with them is key, says Glenn Nishimura, principal & chief people strategist at Nishimura Consulting. “Companies and HR departments need to treat people as individuals,” he says. “They’re saying, ‘take an interest in me as person, not a resource.”

Put aside the preconceived stereotypes about their generation and focus on their individual needs to help them be successful in their jobs. Some might want to focus on additional training so they can move within the company. Others might want the ability to work remotely, and some want the opportunity to experience other areas of the company. The Harvard Business Review suggests adding new questions to your annual employee satisfaction survey such as ones about their professional path and their preferred method of communication. Which brings us to our next point.

Understand their preferred communication form and use it

One form of communication doesn’t fit all generations, says Nishimura. “The way you communicate is just as important as what you communicate.” Most companies offer training tools on their website or their intranet. Putting it up might be easy and time saving for managers and HR departments, but it might get lost and ignored by their employees if there is only way to access it.

Instead, says Nishimura, take the time to ensure information, tools and training are accessible in multiple formats preferred by each generation. So while some might prefer access via their computers, others might prefer to access information via their phones. Some might want to read while others prefer video.

A bottom-up approach to engagement

Team-building activities can be good or bad. The bad ones feel like obligations, a top-down idea of fun while employees attend for good optics. Instead of a top-down approach to employee engagement, let your employees guide you to what they need to remain engaged.

Different age groups have different ideas of what makes a good incentive. A younger age group might want more mentoring, remote-working options or team outings. Gen X might want incentives that include company matching for their RRSPs and flexible work hours so they can spend time with their children. Older generations might want the option to work part-time. Offering different types of incentives engages all your employees. And it doesn’t mean you have to stop office baseball game outings!

Bring the generations together

A multi-generational workforce is a boon to businesses. It’s an opportunity to leverage decades of experience that might be lost as people leave the workforce. That wealth of knowledge can move up and down the generations as they work together.

There’s also the opportunity for mentorship within the generations. The younger generations tend to be more tech-savvy, which they can teach to older generations, and older generations can share their corporate knowledge. Create opportunities for the different groups to work together on projects or learning activities where they can share their knowledge in an open, encouraging atmosphere.

Despite what you might have read about each generation, one thing remains constant between them all: they want to be engaged with their work and with the company. It’s up to companies to make the effort to understand the needs and wants of each person in each generation and adjust their actions and behavior to accommodate them. Doing this makes for satisfied employees and reduced employee turnover for a company. It’s a win-win.

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