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How to bridge generational divides among your workforce

Posted by Shivali Anand

January 24, 2022    |     5-minute read (970 words)

While there are advantages to having employees of diverse generations, managing such a team can be challenging for businesses. In today's workforce, up to five generations may be represented. Employees could range from members of the "silent generation" on one end of the age spectrum to Generation Z on the other. Each generation tends to have its own persona, beliefs, priorities and needs.

For example, while millennials may prefer texting as a form of communication with their co-workers, baby boomers may shun texting altogether. Tech-savvy millennials may favor flexible work hours, whereas their older cohorts might prefer a typical workday schedule. Baby boomers may want their life experiences to be recognized, while Gen Z wants their innovative ideas to be heard.

Cutting through intergenerational friction and encouraging employees of all ages to work together successfully demands effective tactics, without a doubt.

Defining the generations

Silent generation: People born between 1928 to 1945 are part of this group, also known as traditionalists. This group is known for its strong work ethic, high loyalty to employers and respect for authority. They may want to work for the same company their whole career and demand the same level of devotion from their bosses.

Baby boomers: These individuals born from 1946 to 1964 are known for their tenacity. They often place a high value on status and privileges and might be competitive at work. They are the most likely of any generation to be labeled as achievement-oriented and career-focused. Since they grew up making phone calls and sending letters, they may favor one-on-one contact and phone conversations over email and texts.

Generation X: Commonly abbreviated as Gen X and born from 1965 to 1980, this group is less tech-proficient than subsequent generations but is more comfortable with technology than prior ones. They like to be self-sufficient and autonomous at work, and typically shun micromanagement. This is the generation credited for coining the phrase "work-life balance." These individuals are likely to be flexible and open to new ideas.

Millennials: This generation, sometimes known as Generation Y, comprises individuals born between 1981 and 1996. Like their Gen X predecessors, they place a premium on work-life balance and workplace flexibility. Millennials are currently the largest demographic group in the U.S. workplace, are highly tech-savvy and thrive on innovation and new methods of doing things. As a group, they tend to believe they are skilled at multitasking and prefer to work smarter rather than harder.

Generation Z: Members in today's workforce born between 1997 and 2012 are known as Generation Z. Sometimes referred to as Zoomers, they are often morally responsible and technologically adept. They, like millennials, excel at multitasking yet are prone to distraction. Compared to their millennial predecessors, they are more cautious and want job stability. As a group, they prefer rapid input from employers.

Differences among generations

Communication style: Baby boomers are thought to be more reserved, while millennials and Generation Z are more likely to want to work together and to meet face-to-face. According to a 2014 global poll by SuccessFactors, millennials react better to a coaching style of management than a top-down authoritative approach.

Technical skills: According to a 2017 study by Robert Half, older employees, i.e., baby boomers and Gen X, prefer to learn through traditional instructor-led courses or self-learning technologies. Collaborative and tech-centric strategies are preferred by millennials and their younger Gen Z colleagues.

Adapting to change: According to Robert Half, Gen X and millennial employees generally see change as a vehicle for opportunity, but Gen Z employees are more open to change in the workplace. On the other hand, baby boomers were more pessimistic about change, probably due to their move from a reasonably stable work environment to one where cost-cutting, regular restructuring and layoffs were the norm.

Best management practices for generational diversity

Employers can manage an age-diverse staff by fostering a work culture that values cooperation, supports open communication and recognizes different generational viewpoints. When working with a multigenerational workforce, HR experts suggest managers apply the following six strategies:

1. Emphasize shared goals – This helps older and younger personnel collaborate for the same goal and mutual gain. Focusing on shared interests or a common purpose strengthens the sense of "we" and diminishes the idea of "us versus them."

2. Vary ages among project teams – Bringing people of different ages together to work on a project is a great way to establish a team. When deciding on the makeup of a team, managers should consider complementary abilities and various viewpoints.

3. Maintain open communication – Managers must be aware of changes in people's demands, ambitions and physical capacities as time passes. Managers should also keep in mind that employees of the same age group are unlikely to have similar experiences at the same time during their employment. Managers who maintain an open line of communication with their staff can better stay on top of changing demands and respond appropriately.

4. Let younger employees take the lead – When it comes to managing several generations, this is a great strategy. Integrate younger Gen Z employees into the business and allow them to contribute their talents and backgrounds since they often seek clout.

5. Going off-site – Recognizing employees as individuals, regardless of generation, gender or ethnicity, can help to transform intergenerational disparities into a competitive advantage. Managers should take time away from the office to let employees get to know one another better, which may be done by playing games, having lunch or attending a social event. 

6. Tailor your approach – There is no one-size-fits-all solution for a multigenerational workforce. Managers must adjust their management style to each employee's abilities and goals. Organizing instructor-led classes for baby boomers to improve their computer abilities, for example, would likely be highly accepted, as would providing Gen Z employees with collaborative and tech-centric alternatives.

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