Managing a multi-generational workforce in 2019 is a lot like getting into CrossFit - it’s extremely challenging, helluva rewarding and when you do it right the results are amazing, but it also takes a fair amount of hair-on-teeth tenacity to get it done. Why so? Well, the simple fact is that employees from different generations vibe differently, and when you throw Millennials, Baby Boomers, and Gen X and Z into one corporate melting pot, some serious friction is par for the course.
You may be asking yourself if a multi-generational workforce is even a thing - surely you can’t lump a whole group of people together just because they all happened to have been born in the same oddly-defined slice of time? After all, that vast group could contain motorsports-loving Taurians, yoga-babe vegans, horse-riding photographers and all manner of other cross-genre humans. Are they really all that similar in the way that they conduct themselves in the workplace?
Yes, it turns out they are. Here’s why.
No matter how dissimilar a group of people may be, when they share a collective set of circumstances in their formative years, they tend to react quite similarly to certain stimuli. E.g. Baby Boomers entered the workforce at a time when authority was still very much from the top down, so they respond well to official, form-style managerial feedback rather than on-the-go snaps in the lunchroom. Generation X, Y and Z, on the other hand, are used to linear management styles and like their feedback to be of the frequent and immediate variety.
As it stands, we currently have 4 different generations sharing workspace all over the globe, including:
Baby Boomers: Ages 54-70
Gen X: Ages 34-53
Millennials (or Gen Y): Ages 21-33
Gen Z: Ages 20 and under
Here are a few top tips to smooth the way for more effective inter-generational collaboration within your business with all of these multifaceted humans in the mix.
Top tips for managing a multi-generational workforce in 2019:
1. Know the lay of the land
When you’re evaluating your communication style, it helps to know who exactly you are speaking to. Make a point of knowing the demographic split of your workforce, per department if possible. When you head up a multinational organisation with countless employees across multiple continents this can be tough, but there are ways and means of getting it done. You could, for instance, invest in software that allows you to conduct regular pulse surveys, or enlist the services of corporate psychologists who can do the legwork on your behalf.
2. Play beyond the labels
Whatever you do, don’t pit younger generations and older generations against each other by playing into stereotypes. Instead of assuming a boomer doesn’t know their way around social media, or that a Gen Z employee won’t be able to draft a formal letter, keep an open mind and get to know the people in your organisation on a more personal level. When they see that you treat everyone in the same manner regardless of their age they are far more likely to do so themselves.
3. Mix it up
Sometimes the best way to foster understanding between age groups - Generation X and Millennials, Boomer generation, the works - is to get them to share a sandbox. Try to create opportunities for cross-generational collaborative working as often as you can. Start small, e.g. nominating a diverse group to organise an after-work get together once a month, with an incentive for the team that throws the best shindig. From there, you can make your way into deeper waters to test their ability to work together on customer-facing projects, etc.
4. Up the mentoring game
Older workers have a lot of hard-won wisdom they can share with younger generations, and often don’t mind doing so face-to-face. Fostering a collaborative company culture that draws on mentoring partnerships has been proven to be effective for huge companies like Intel, General Electric and Caterpillar, so why not yours?
5. Assess needs & aspirations
Employees from different generations are in different stages of their lives, which is something that should be considered from a reward and recognition point of view. For instance, a Generation Z employee might be biting at the bit to land an account that requires international travel with some scope for a bit of bleisure; while a Millennial could give their eye teeth to expand their skill set with something exciting like a drone-flying course. A Gen X worker might value flexible work to facilitate work-life balance; while Boomers are likely to relish a stab at an interesting project or two before they settle into retirement. Knowing who to incentivise with what is a big part of managing needs effectively across the board.
Following these guidelines will lay the groundwork for the effective management of a multi-generational workforce in 2019. Keep your eye on the blog in coming weeks and months for more of the good stuff.
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