Is your organization equipped to manage a multigenerational workforce?
A recent Deloitte study says most likely not: The study found that while 70% of organizations surveyed said leading multigenerational workforces would be important or very important for their success over the next year, only 6% said their team leaders were equipped to effectively manage one.
The workforce is currently experiencing its most age-diverse time in history. Having an age-diverse staff has incredible benefits—such as increased productivity and better problem solving, just to name a couple—but it also comes with a number of challenges around motivation and communication.
It is up to team leaders to overcome those challenges and cultivate a healthy, inclusive, and productive environment for employees of all ages. Read on for some common problems faced by multigenerational workforces and best practices for overcoming them.
Generational differences & defining characteristics
Not every individual born in a certain generation will fit within the broad, defining characteristics of that generation. However, understanding these defining characteristics can still help us understand the priorities, motivations, and communication styles of each generation.
Traditionalists (born before 1945): Individuals are retiring later these days and many high-ranking positions are currently held by members of this generation. "Traditionalists" tend to be loyal team players who appreciate structure and stability. This generation heavily relies on real-time verbal communication.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964): While they are likely to stay within the same professional field, Boomers are more keen on switching employers than Traditionalists. They tend to focus on individual performance and are driven by their incentive to climb the organizational ladder. They value in-person work settings and their preferred mode of communication is email.
Generation X (1965-1976): Members of Gen X are beginning to replace Boomers in managerial positions and are more independent than their predecessors. They tend to desire flexibility in the workplace and they embrace technology to boost productivity and facilitate communication.
Millennials (1977-1995): This generation is the driving force of today's workplace. Driven by a sense of purpose and continual learning, they tend to crave interaction, feedback, and collaboration. This generation prefers to communicate electronically through texting, direct messages, and social media over phone calls.
Generation Z (1996 and after): This generation is just beginning to enter the workforce, but is the largest, most ethnically diverse cohort in the US population. They are driven by impact and social responsibility and appreciate communication technology that provides a personal experience, like video conferencing.
Challenges of age diversity– and suggestions to overcome them
Given these distinct preferences and perspectives, it can be difficult to foster a culture that empowers all employees, regardless of age.
BUT, if you know what challenges to expect, you can ensure your team reaps the benefits of a multigenerational workforce, such as diversity of skill sets, experience, and perspective.
Here are three common problems faced by multigenerational teams and recommendations for overcoming them:
1. Stereotypes and discrimination
As with any type of diversity, discrimination around age can occur in the workplace and can be geared toward any generation. Older generations might perceive younger people as entitled and oversensitive, while younger employees might assume that their older colleagues are close-minded and stubborn. These overarching generalizations stem from negative stereotypes and can easily toxify a company's culture.
Within the workplace, ageism can exist in very subtle ways through comments like 'okay boomer' or 'snowflake'. Many of us have heard microaggressions and comments on a mature employee's inability to use technology or a younger employee's inexperience or inadequacy. These comments are often overlooked and are not as easily classified as insensitive or discriminatory like racist or sexist comments might be.
Educating yourself and your employees on generational issues boosts understanding, respect, and productivity. Give your team the opportunity to reflect on the differences of each generation, and how they ultimately lead to strengthening the unit as a whole. Working toward dispelling stereotypes can lead to a more harmonious work flow.
2. Shifting needs
As time passes, our priorities, concerns, and qualities change. The Kaleidoscope Career Model suggests that there are three different things we care about in our professional careers: challenge, balance, and authenticity. As we age, the degree to which we care about each of these factors shifts and evolves. For example, junior level employees tend to value challenge over balance and authenticity, while middle-aged employees tend to value balance over challenge. Authenticity is more highly desired as individuals approach their retirement years, but it is also valued greatly by young entrepreneurs.
Understand what motivates your employees and support them at all stages of their professional career. Flexible, generation sensitive policies can also lead to greater retention, because individuals will feel supported throughout their career and will not have to leave a company to seek a job that will fulfill their needs.
- Create flexible benefit packages that can be tailored to each individual's needs. Benefit preferences reflect the different values and stages of life each generation is experiencing. Millennials and Gen Z employees tend to value student loan relief, while Baby Boomers Gen Xers put retirement plans and health insurance at the top of their benefit wish-list.
- Foster lifelong learning by encouraging professional and personal development for employees of all ages. This can be done by offering internal trainings, online courses, and tuition reimbursement for employees throughout every stage of their career. Supporting career development heightens motivation among employees of all ages and encourages collaboration and initiative.
Communication style, tone, and method can differ between generations, which can lead to misunderstandings. With the availability of email, messaging applications, phone calls, and video conferences, there are plenty of modes of communication to choose from.
Because each generation introduces a new means of communication, it is important that information be shared effectively, especially to those employees who are not as tech-savvy as the rest. Get to know your team and decide the best way to connect with them individually and collectively. With the right insights, you can give individuals the right tools to maximize productivity and help the team communicate and collaborate more effectively.
- Keep in mind that younger employees may prefer to receive information digitally, while employees from earlier generations may be accustomed to printed materials and in-person interactions.
- Create mentoring opportunities that are mutually beneficial. Leverage the knowledge and wisdom of senior employees to help mentor and advise younger ones. Reverse-generational mentoring puts junior employees in the mentor seat, and allows them to help more mature individuals with their literacy in technology and current trends. Who knows, your company might go viral from a company-wide TikTok challenge.
The solutions to the challenges and complexities that come with managing (and working on) a multigenerational team are not one-size-fits all. However, understanding the needs and priorities of each generation and finding ways to attend to them is a crucial first step in moving the needle toward feeling better equipped to lead an age-diverse team.
Click here to learn more ways to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.