For the first time in history, the workplace now spans five different generations, all working alongside one another. While such a wide age gap can lead to frustration and potentially even conflict, having a multigenerational workforce can also lead to stronger teamwork and an abundance of creativity.
Since each generation has different needs and perspectives, managers must learn how to get the best out of each one by understanding their respective characteristics, attitudes, and challenges. This is a tricky concept to balance, so how can you get it right?
Managing a Multigenerational Workforce
By understanding the intricacies of each generation and embracing their differences, you will be able to give your employees the right tools to maximise their productivity and collaborate more effectively. This, in turn, will create a more balanced, productive and transformational workplace.
To illustrate how to achieve this, we've compiled an actionable plan, broken down by the characteristics of each generation.
Traditionalists (also known as Veterans)
Although only representing some 3% of the workforce, many people born before 1945 are still working. Born between 1922 and 1945, traditionalists – as they are often referred to – are known for being loyal to the company they work for and tend to remain with one employer for an extended period. They have great respect for authority and see work as a reward in itself.
While this generation has much knowledge and experience, they may be uncomfortable with confrontation, and reluctant to change. That being said, they are team players who prefer to focus on longer-term projects and – despite stereotypes – are not afraid of technology.
Traditionalists prefer desktop computers and landline phones to communicate with their co-workers and clients. They need robust voice capabilities and traditional desktop applications in order to be more productive.
Managers should motivate traditionalists by connecting their actions to the overall good of the organisation. They should be rewarded for their work with symbols of loyalty and service, such as certificates and plaques.
Born between 1946 and 1964, baby boomers are characterised as adaptive, hardworking and goal-oriented, while their profession often defines their identity.
They appreciate competition and love effective communication; however, like traditionalists, they are uncomfortable with conflict and tend to put the process ahead of the result.
Baby boomers tend to stay in the same field longer than millennials, although they do switch employers more than traditionalists. They are driven and focused on their individual performance, and care deeply about climbing the organisational ladder. They are much less likely to use social media or smartphones while at work and rely heavily on email. As such, they must be able to access email systems with ease to ensure they remain productive.
A good manager can motivate baby boomers by showing them how they can make a difference in the organisation. They should be rewarded with recognition and promotion.
Born between 1965 and 1980, this generation has a ‘break all the rules’ mentality and was the first to discuss work-life balance. They are independent, adaptable and willing to change the system, which allows for greater productivity. They demand more autonomy and are less respectful of authority. They are also more likely to walk away from an inflexible workplace and have begun to replace boomers in managerial positions in recent years.
Gen X embraces technology in the workplace, including PDAs, smartphones, laptops, tablets and, of course, email. As such, it’s essential to implement state-of-the-art workplace technologies, such as video conferencing, as well as team-based digital workspaces. This will enable you to meet their flexibility requirements and – hopefully – retain them for longer.
A good manager can motivate Gen X employees by allowing them to work autonomously and on their own time. They should also be rewarded with upgraded resources, development opportunities and CV boosters.
This generation is the driving force of today’s workplace. Born between 1980 and 2000, this is an incredibly pragmatic and determined generation that is technologically-savvy, and often idealistic.
Representing 25% of the workforce, millennials are an optimistic generation that wants to change the world but does not want to sacrifice lifestyle for work. They crave interaction, structure and collaboration in the workplace, and are strongly driven by a sense of purpose. They also have a superb ability to multitask.
Successfully managing millennials requires plenty of feedback, workplace learning and growth opportunities. Since they have high reward and recognition expectations, a good manager should award them with certificates, awards and tangible evidence of their credibility. Text, instant messaging and social media are their primary modes of communication, and they prefer to communicate electronically – to the point where many millennials opt to work from home. As such, they should be able to use technology to improve efficiency at work.
Generation Z is just beginning to enter the workforce. This is the most ethnically diverse, fast-paced, independent and competitive generation.
Most of their job decisions are based on how tech-savvy a workplace is, but in the office, they also favour face-to-face communication. The top two most important factors are supportive leadership and positive relationships at work. Managing Generation Z employees requires providing them with technology that offers a personal experience, such as video meetings. They also desire frequent feedback from their supervisor.
Meeting the Needs of Each Generation
While there are clearly a number of differences between each generation, it’s important not to stereotype each one. Yes, there are small differences in values – especially when it comes to things happening outside of work – but we shouldn’t allow the concept of ‘generation’ to become too deeply embedded in the workplace culture.
Most of us crave work that matters; we also want flexibility, support and appreciation. It doesn’t matter which generation we were born in; we need to work together and find ways to navigate the multigenerational workplace more efficiently.
As a manager, you need to acknowledge these shared needs, but get to know your employees’ individual needs first and foremost. To reach the shared goals of your organisation, you should encourage teamwork while building on the strengths of each individual.
Finally, initiate conversations about each generation in order to break down stereotypes, and help your staff to understand one another better. By accommodating the needs of each generation, and providing space for them to grow and learn, managing a multigenerational workforce will be much more comfortable. You will be better able to ensure all generations work seamlessly together for the benefit of not just them, but for the wider success of your business, too.
What do you think? Is managing a generational workforce more complicated than it needs to be? Or is it essential to understand the nuanced differences? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!