21 November 2014

Age Diversity: Managing Multi-Generational Workplaces

For the first time in history, we have four generations working side by side in the workplace. This means that many companies must balance a generation gap of more than 50 years between their oldest and youngest employees. Problems can be caused by the different communication styles of employees born decades apart, and different generations tend to work and think in different ways.



A survey by Ernst & Young found that 62% of US employees are Generation Y, 29% from Generation X and 9% Baby Boomers. The Future of Work report published this year by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKES) found that multi-generational working – so-called ‘4G’ workplaces – will become increasingly common as people work into their 70s or 80s before retiring. This means that many companies must balance a generation gap of more than 50 years between their oldest and youngest employees. Problems can be caused by the different communication styles of employees born decades apart, and different generations tend to work and think in different ways.

Four generations – one workplace

The four generational groups are generally categorised as:

• Traditionalists - born before 1945: grew up in an era where they “did without” many things. They value hard work and believe in sacrifice, are uncomfortable with change, dedicated to the job and loyal to their employer. Most have retired, but those who’ve hung on to their job may be seen as “fossils” by younger staff.

• Baby Boomers - born between 1946-1964: brought up in a healthy economic era, they are optimistic, good team workers and are often defined by their job.

• Generation X - born between 1965-1980: grew up in an era of unrest, they tend to be cynical, comfortable with change and are very self-reliant.

• Generation Y (Millennials) -  born between 1981-2000: brought up in the global internet generation, they are tech-savvy, used to instant gratification and diversity,  and are comfortable with multi-tasking and innovation. They work-to-live and see work-life balance as a right, not a privilege.

Each generation has different cultural backgrounds, goals, influences and behaviours. If your workforce consists of a mix of these different age groups you need to have strategies in place to encourage effective collaboration and communication. By learning more about the differing needs and expectations of each generation you can use their combined strengths and diversity to create a strong and productive workforce.

Here are six tips on managing a multi-generational workplace:
 
1) Recognise and reward people: Don’t try to use a “one size fits all” approach. Instead tailor your response to your team’s differing needs and adjust reward programmes accordingly. Boomers may appreciate an office-wide email to acknowledge that they’re exceeding expectations, while Millennials may appreciate the opportunity for more responsibility.

2) Accommodate different learning styles: Baby Boomers and older workers may prefer more traditional, static training methods like Power Point presentations and handbooks. Whereas Millennials are often more comfortable with interactive and innovative styles of learning. Make sure you make provision for all learning styles to ensure that employees stay engaged.

3) Mentoring: By facilitating mentoring between different-aged staff you can encourage the different generations to interact and appreciate each other’s strengths. Older employees can learn different perspective from younger ones, while younger staff can learn a lot from their older colleague’s experience.

4) Keep employees engaged: Provide regular educational and training opportunities as well as career advice to keep all workers interested in the company. Be aware that the generations may have differing priorities. For example, Boomers and Traditionalists may not be looking for further training or extra responsibility if they are seeking to cut back hours before retirement. While Generation X and Millennials may appreciate team social activities and promotion opportunities.

5) Teach managers to recognise generational differences: Give all employees a voice, regardless of their age and position within the organisation. Ensure you provide a forum where all staff are able to present ideas, concerns or complaints. Managers should promote open communication throughout the workplace and provide opportunities for employee feedback.

6) Accommodate personal employee needs: Different generations of employees will be in different stages of life and may require employers to offer flexibility, so that they can manage their personal time. Ensure you are seen as being fair across the different generations. For example, Boomers may want to reduce hours and work part-time before retirement. Generation Xers who need to leave work early to attend a parent/teacher event can agree to make up lost time at another date. Support Millennials who may want to pursue further education part-time by having day-release opportunities, and extend the same educational opportunities to other employees.
 
But above all, remember that all employees are individuals – don’t assume that all generational traits apply to every member of staff.

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