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Feb 1, 201812:33 PMMosaic Marketplace

with Deborah Biddle — A blog for diverse business enterprises in and around Madison.

How to leverage multigenerational differences

(page 1 of 2)

I trained a group of leaders last week on improving work relationships and company culture by conquering hidden bias. During the workshop, we had a tangential discussion about generational differences in the workplace.

One leader felt that too much is being made about the challenges faced among generations — that we’ve always had multiple generations in the workforce and we’ve adjusted. Others expressed concerns around the technological differences, knowledge gaps, and varying work ethics. A few more felt that bias is created by categorizing and stereotyping generations in ways that further exasperate the gaps.

Perhaps the expressed concerns are valid. However, this is the first time in our history that we’ve had five generations in the workforce at one time:

  • Traditionalists/silent generation (born approximately from 1922 to 1945)
  • Baby boomers (born approximately from 1946 to 1964)
  • Generation X/baby busters (born approximately from 1965 to 1980)
  • Generation Y/millennials (born approximately from 1981 to 1997)
  • Gen Z /iGeneration (born since 1998)

With these five generations there are challenges inherent in the 76 years between traditionalists and Gen Z — challenges that are palpable and worth noting. These differences are characteristic of most workplaces and include varying personalities, preferences, values, attitudes, beliefs, backgrounds, behaviours, communication styles, technological expertise, organizational knowledge, and experience. The challenge for managers is to create environments where every employee can thrive and work to his or her fullest potential, regardless of that individual’s demographic or diversity status.

Rather than focus on our differences, we can focus on collaboration and leveraging this diversity to empower innovation and branding. We have the widest breadth of talent in our workforce in history. Companies have access to an expansive array of talent, skill, and knowledge to create products and services that reach an equally broad consumer base. As our business landscape expands, we will need all the talent we can develop. Leaders will be required to discover new ways to meet the ever-increasing needs of the rapidly rising diverse workforce, as well as find sensible and feasible ways to leverage that diversity for competitive advantage.

Three considerations for leading and managing multigenerational teams are:

  • Age — We live in an era where members of different generations interact and bond most with employees of similar age. Considering the age span within companies, the propensity for birds of a feather flocking together can challenge the desire to have high-functioning, multigenerational, and cohesive teams. To create more cross-generational collaboration, embrace, utilize, and honor the innovation and productivity benefit gained by the knowledge and experience of traditionalists and baby boomers, coupled with the fresh perspectives, ideas, and technological abilities of Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z.
  • Values and work ethic — Each generation brings different values to the work arena. Events occurring over time, like economic recessions, wars, and technological advances have shaped the values and ways each group works. Generally, baby boomers expect younger employees to share their level of commitment and respect for hierarchy. Differently, Gen Xers desire flexible work hours and prefer less supervision than Gen Y. Gen Z values flexible work schedules, prefers more managerial feedback, and time off of work for community involvement. If left unchecked, these differences can create a ripe opportunity for workplace conflict. Being able to grasp these values and work ethic distinctions are crucial for managing multiple generations successfully.
  • Communication — Researchers have found that there are easily observable variations in generational communication preferences. Gen Y and Gen Z are most likely to gravitate toward social media, while baby boomers and traditionalists will prefer to communicate face-to-face, via phone call, or text messages. Openly addressing preferences and finding ways to blend communication styles will alleviate frustration and enhance team output.   

(Continued)

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