How to overcome the challenge of managing employees from different generations
In the past, the workforce was fairly homogenous: People got a job, stayed at it for most of their lives, progressed through the company, worked until retirement age and then left to make room for younger workers. In today’s workforce, however, places of business have four generations working together, all with different wants and needs, posing unique challenges for employers.
Many of today’s employers are struggling to bridge these generational gaps and to bring out the best in each employee to build a cohesive, collaborative workforce that is working toward the same end.
“Employers must understand what characteristics and strengths each generation brings to the workplace and what events played a part in shaping their lives if they are to realize their full potential,” says Lacy Robinson, senior professional development trainer at Aurora Casket Co. in Aurora, Ind.
Each of the four generations has specific views toward leadership, work and values, says Tim Elmore, founder and president of the international nonprofit organization Growing Leaders, which helps schools, universities and civic groups prepare the leaders of tomorrow.
“This melting pot of personalities has the potential to cause conflict, especially in the collaborative setting of the workplace,” Elmore says. “But with insight, empathy and effort, these differences can transform individuals into team-builders who work effectively together.”
Considerations for specific generations
Because traditionalists respect authority and value proficiency, the key to managing them is recognizing the value of their experiences and expertise.
“Ask for their advice and insight,” Elmore says. “Also consider mutual mentoring opportunities in which a younger employee might be able to mentor the traditionalist in social media marketing techniques, and the older person could offer advice on strategic planning.”
Mature, organized boomers are also eager to put their experience to work. This group generally desires to work on projects that will capitalize on their industry and product knowledge and on their familiarity with diverse customer bases, says Lynn Berger, a licensed mental health counselor, professional certified coach and master career counselor.
Gen X, however, watched its boomer parents place their careers first and typically doesn’t want to commit as heavily to their jobs. When working with this group, it’s important to emphasize the relationship first.
“Foster a sense of community with them and acknowledge that they have a life outside of work and want to live it,” Elmore says. “No matter your age, approaching Gen Xers through the lens of a relationship — not a task or authority — will make them far more receptive and loyal.”
Finally, because millennials are confident, connected, open to change and keenly adept and aware of their technological skills, companies need to create ample opportunities for them by providing the chance for them to use their technological skills and be involved in projects that are interesting and exciting, Berger says.
Managing multiple generations together
Employers should research and study the different generations through webinars, workshops, blogs and books, Robinson says. Because she works in the funeral industry, she often works with clients from multiple generations and says it’s important to understand each.
“Commit not only to knowing the facts and characteristics but aim to reach a level of understanding that truly helps you be flexible and better communicate with employees in the manner in which they need,” she says. “Further, while this information is excellent for leaders and managers of an organization, it is also important to share it with staff members.”
Robinson recommends speaking with each employee to discover his or her full potential and gain an understanding of how each works.
Questions to ask include:
Robinson also recommends facilitating generational awareness sessions for all employees to increase their understanding of each other. In addition to these sessions, she suggests partnering employees from different generations to encourage cooperation.
“Working closely together will allow each person to learn the specific strengths of an individual, resulting in appreciation for a person’s strengths rather than a focus on perceived weaknesses, which are really miscommunications resulting from a generation gap,” Robinson says.