Multi-Generational Workforce

For the first time in history, there are five generations in the workforce: The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. This multi-generational workforce can provide your office with a diverse array of opinions and perspectives, but it can sometimes be challenging to manage differing employee values, needs, and behaviors.  

The truth is, there is no one-size-fits all solution, so flexibility and open communication are key. Below, we will provide some quick tips on successfully leading a multi-generational team. 

A Multi-Generational Workforce – Don’t Stereotype – But Be Aware Of Differences 

No one is fully defined by their birth year, so be aware of any stereotypes you may have. We sometimes assume Baby Boomers are averse to change, Millennials are entitled, or Zoomers tend to job hop. No one likes to feel pigeonholed – especially by factors beyond their control, such as age. 

That being said, people are undeniably influenced by their experiences, in part shaped by when they entered the workforce. Someone from Gen Z may have graduated college in 2020 and be accustomed to remote work and flexible schedules, for example. These differences will manifest in how these employees approach everything from work-life balance to their day-to-day schedule. 

Broad, sweeping assumptions – especially negative ones – are bound to alienate employees. However, you should be aware of any generational differences that may impact employee behavior and needs and manage your team accordingly. 

Find Effective Means Of Communication 

Productive communication is always vital in any workforce and different generations have different comfort zones in this respect. What works for a 24 year old may not work for someone in their mid-50s. 

Millennials and Zoomers came of age communicating heavily via text. Therefore, they may be perfectly comfortable with work-related information being conveyed via Slack, text messages, or emails. Older generations, however, are much more used to face-to-face communication and may strongly prefer meetings to emails. 

When working with a 23-year-old employee, it may be easy to go over project notes through a private Slack exchange. With a 53-year-old, however, you may be better off scheduling a 15-minute meeting to get information across successfully. Don’t hesitate to approach employees of different generations in different ways, which brings us to our next point. 

Remember, There Is No One Size Fits All Solution 

Harvard Business Review advises that employers managing a multi-generational workforce talk openly to employees about work preferences. Rather than using a single leadership style on every team member, approach employees on a case-by-case basis.  

Everything from communication styles to work-life balance to preferred payment methods can vary depending on generation. Baby boomers are used to cycling between periods of work and leisure, for example, and may be happy with a traditional 9-to-5 structure. Millennials, conversely, are more likely to have spent some of their working years freelancing. Therefore, they may prefer more flexible schedules. 

Remember, these are broad generalizations, and you always need to avoid stereotyping employees. The best way to know what employees want is to ask them directly. Solicit regular feedback through annual reviews, short touch-base sessions, employee surveys, and more. 

Focus On Life Stage Over Generation

On the topic of avoiding stereotypes, focus on an employee’s life stage and career aspirations before their age. This way, you’re first considering your employee’s individual needs based on personal circumstances. 

Sometimes, employees from different generations are in similar life stages and have similar needs. For example, a Millennial parent is just as likely to appreciate in-office childcare as a Gen X parent. As we enter the third year of a global pandemic, employees of all ages will appreciate time off around the holidays to spend time with loved ones. 

At times, age is more than just a number. An employee approaching retirement is more likely to be concerned about their 401(k) plan than someone just entering the workforce. However, by making decisions with life stages rather than age in mind, you avoid making employees feel stereotyped. 

Encourage Age-Diverse Collaboration 

According to Forbes, inclusive teams make better business decisions nearly 90% of the time. Diversity includes age. A multi-generational workforce can set you up for success if you lead effectively. 

Due to potential friction, managers may hesitate to put employees of different generations on the same projects. However, encouraging age-diverse collaboration is what you should be doing as a leader. A range of perspectives can lead to better decision-making and a better outcome for everyone involved. 

It is not just about projects either. Try to encourage multi-generational interaction through activities like after-work happy hours or catered lunches.  

A Multi-Generational Workforce: The Bottom Line 

The multi-generational workforce is here to stay. Therefore, leaders must learn to manage employees from different walks of life effectively. A flexible approach that fosters open communication and mutual respect can help you reap the benefits of a multi-generational workforce and see your company thrive.

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