As the world becomes more connected due the advances in technology, the state of the workplace is more diverse than ever. This statement doesn’t just apply to nationality—it’s true of age as well. These days, it’s no surprise to find a manager leading a team of employees from all generations. As Pew Research Center noted, the number of working millennials (defined as people aged 18 to 34) surpassed the number of working Generation Xers (people aged 35 to 50) back in 2015. However, their margin was very slim. In fact, millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers (people aged 51 to 69) each made up about a third of the labor force, with the silent generation (people aged 70 to 87) and post-millennials (people younger than 18) comprising a combined 3 percent.
Though the numbers may have shifted since then, it stands to reason that a single manager—or even one team—will have employees of varying ages. Rising retirement age and talent shortages have also contributed to such work environments. These diverse individuals likely grew up with different values, aspirations and cultural priorities. As such, their work habits may diverge in ways that don’t optimize efficiency. If you plan to adopt a management or leadership role in the future, it’s up to you to be prepared to lead such diverse teams. Here’s what you need to know about handling a multigenerational workforce:
1. Multigenerational workplaces have varying values and expectations
Differences in values and expectations from employers are arguably the biggest factor of generational discrepancies. These wide-ranging views have resulted in varying methods of approaching workplace duties and communicating with supervisors. Hay Group, a management consulting firm, conducted research to discover just what these different values are. Surveying over five million employees across the world, they concluded:
1. Young generations place higher value on practical skills, while older ones prioritize people skills.
2. Young generations are innovative and value work-life balance, and older ones are more focused on commitment and the freedom of retirement.
3. Young generations are more willing to challenge authority and preconceived expectations, while older ones prefer set job descriptions.
To manage both groups effectively, you’ll need to structure teams so everyone has a dedicated role that appeals to their interests or utilizes their talents. Job duties should be more or less inflexible, but you’ll need to provide talent development options to satisfy young workers’ need for innovation and creativity. Making these opportunities optional also allows for the workplace stability older generations enjoy. Who knows—you might find some of your staff breaking these generation norms.
Each generation has its own workplace values.
That said, Hay Group also identified five values that people find important regardless of their age:
1. A focus on customers and external stakeholders
2. A focus on execution
5. Planning and organizing
All of this information means that as a leader or manager, you will need to develop soft skills to manage employees of different ages. Flexible communication methods are vital for meeting the needs of people with expectations and values that may reside on opposite ends of the workplace spectrum.
2. Communication is the biggest hurdle of a multigenerational workplace
Because these values hold so much weight in the way people work, they influence how generations interact with each other. Human resources consulting firm Robert Half Management Resources confirmed this notion: In a study of over 2,200 chief financial officers from over 20 of the largest U.S. cities, respondents identified communication skills as the primary difference between the generations. Adapting to change fell second, while technical skills fell third.
This contrasts with conventional advice that much of the age-related friction in the workplace comes from older employees not understanding modern work tools. Rather, the discrepancies stem from the fact that the generations convey and receive information in varying ways. This causes team members to butt heads if managers are not careful.
The solution to this dilemma is simple: team-building and collaboration. Pay attention to your employees and arrange them so their personalities push and challenge each other, but don’t clash. This, again, requires well-developed soft skills.
Create teams where generational differences inspire innovation, not conflict.
3. Mentoring increases engagement among all levels
As noted above, different generations have divergent viewpoints on what constitutes a good job. Silents and boomers prefer stability, while millennials and Gen X want engagement and satisfaction. In fact, these latter two preferences have led millennials to be commonly classified as job hoppers. This generation is more likely than any other to switch employers due to a lack of engagement. They also fear they’re looked down upon because of their age and want constant feedback on how to improve.
Mentoring programs address each of these concerns. As a matter of fact, a 2016 Deloitte survey discovered mentoring is one of the most powerful tools for fostering engagement. After surveying almost 7,700 millennials from 29 different countries, the consulting firm found 68% of younger employees who weren’t at risk of job hopping also had a mentor.
Such programs also address the concerns of older generations. Silents, boomers and even members of Gen X fear their skill sets are becoming obsolete and their positions will soon be eliminated or replaced by millennials, international staff or robots. Recruiting these generations as mentors shows they’re still valuable employees. It also gives them the chance to learn new soft skills and tech tools from their younger peers so their abilities remain in demand.
Learning to manage a diverse office
If your dream of becoming a manager has led you to the Washington State University Carson College of Business, you’ve made the right decision. Our expertly designed curriculum, which includes the core course Managerial Leadership and Productivity, is designed to prepare you to meet the challenges of today’s business environment. Here, you can study skills that can help you effectively manage a team filled with people of different ages and backgrounds.