Originally Published by: Jay Starkman and Alex Nadal
With four generations currently in the labor force, there is an increased focus on how to manage multigenerational employees.
Generational differences represent one of many factors that create diversity in the workplace, which is a good thing. Learning how to effectively lead and motivate distinct generations also presents opportunities for companies to not only do well, but to be more competitive.
A workforce that is more united than divided is ultimately more successful.
Studies have shown that characteristics that are attributable to each generation (Baby Boomers, ages 54-70; Gen X, ages 34-53; Gen Y, or millennials, ages 21-33; and Gen Z, 20 and under), are the product of the shared life experiences that each group faced. Factors such as the state of the economy when they were growing up, conditions in the labor market when they got their first job, and significant political and world events, all have a role in shaping a generation.
For example, if there was high unemployment when individuals of similar age entered the labor market, those shared life experiences can contribute to the personality traits that employees from that generation carry with them throughout their careers.
The approach needed to manage employees from one generation may be different from those needed to manage others. Companies should recognize the strengths and potential that each group brings to the table and focus more on adapting to those differences rather than expecting groups to conform to a specific management style or culture.
Generations Y and Z view career development and advancement in radically different ways than Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. Workers born in the ‘80s and ‘90s tend to view a job as a stepping stone. Generally, they place a greater emphasis on professional development and training opportunities when making career decisions, such as where to apply for a job, if to accept an offer, and how long to remain with an employer.
In contrast, workers born in the mid-1950s to the 1970s generally place a greater emphasis on tenure and loyalty to a company. They tend to have a more formal, traditional view of career advancement through promotions and increases in pay.
To optimize employee satisfaction, companies should consider cross-training for different positions with a focus on the development of transferable skills. This will help to keep the younger generations engaged, while honoring the experience and tenure of older workers.
Employers also should consider generational preferences when developing performance management approaches. Regardless of age, all employees want to be appreciated for a job well done. The difference is the way appreciation and constructive feedback is delivered to employees of different generations.
Generations X, Y and Z tend to be less receptive to an authoritarian style of leadership, and generally prefer frequent and immediate feedback. On the other hand, Baby Boomers are more accustomed to a hierarchical corporate structure, and will generally respond better to more formal constructive feedback with an understanding that their work ethic and dedication have not gone unnoticed.
Benefits and perks
Employers should make sure that their workplace policies also fit the demographics of the entire labor force. This includes employee programs and perks such as health benefits and retirement plans, workplace flexibility and paid parental leave or paid or subsidized childcare.
Self-service tools to help employees access their benefits should also be examined closely. Technology that may be convenient and easy to use for one group of employees may be less intuitive and cumbersome for others. Make sure there is adequate user training and multiple ways for employees to get help when making benefit choices and using their benefits.
These generational characteristics and recommendations are based on the common threads that various studies have revealed, but every employee is — of course — unique. Management styles must recognize the value that each generational group brings to the team without ignoring individual strengths.
Avoiding stereotypes and understanding that employees from all generations can spawn innovations and contribute to a company’s success, leads to greater cooperation and respect among employees. A rich blend of generations within a company will have a positive impact on the workplace culture and productivity, with the added benefit of helping to avoid issues with workplace discrimination.
Through enhanced manager training and other employee-focused programs, businesses can discover a unique competitive edge by bringing multiple generations together and tapping into the individual talents and skills of each and every employee.