Managing multiple generations to encourage collaboration and mentoring produces a competitive advantage for innovative organizations.
Leaders and managers in today’s workplace are struggling to manage the largest demographic shift the labor force has ever seen. With four generations now being represented in the workplace in significant numbers, and managers often supervising both younger and older employees, conflicts and issues are bound to arise. However, those leaders and companies that are able to manage multiple generations benefit from an ability to leverage the strengths of each generation, while also mitigating shortcomings.
Overcome Generational Stereotypes
No matter which generation you belong to, stereotypes will often cloud your thinking about other generations. How often have you looked at a resume and decided that an applicant was “too old” or “too experienced” for the job? Or, on the flip side, you decided not to call a candidate back because you figured they were too “young and lazy”.
These stereotypes are not just illegal in many countries, but they are also harmful to your team and your organization. An academic research report, titled The Impact of Aging and Age Diversity on Company Performance, by the University of Zurich analyzed the costs and benefits of age diversity to conclude that the net benefits of age diversity outweigh the costs to have a positive effect on productivity for organizations, particularly those that rely on innovation and creative problem-solving.
Their research finds that an age-diverse workforce can produce more conflicts and greater turnover. However, particularly with the addition of a leader who is capable of managing multiple generations, age diversity helps teams overcome the pitfalls of “group think” and enlarges the “‘toolbox’ to enhance flexibility and creativity, which ultimately leads to more creative, faster and flexible problem-solving processes with better outcomes.” (Page 10).
It is easy for you and your team to fall for generational stereotypes. It is your responsibility as a multigenerational manager to help everyone overcome these stereotypes by developing your team, opening communication, and creating an environment of inclusiveness for all.
Find Common Ground
Managing multiple generations to overcome stereotypes requires you to help the individuals on your team find common ground with other generations. Stereotypes encourage us to focus on those things that make us different. Multigenerational leadership focuses on those things that everyone values. For example, everyone on your team values having a fulfilling career a feeling respected by you and their peers. However, each person or generation experiences and views these values a little differently.
Having a fulfilling career to a Baby Boomer has historically meant that they have a secure position with one company—that they feel very loyal to—and can expect to move up within the organization over time as they prove themselves. A fulfilling career to a Millennial or a Generation Z employee is likely to look a little different. Millennials are now at an age where they are concerned about their financial future as they look to raise families, own homes, and save for their future all while feeling as though they are having a positive impact on their community, society, and/or the world. Though just getting started in the workforce and a bit of a mystery yet, Gen Z is expected to be looking for opportunity for career growth and work that has an impact. Millennials really got employers worried about retention, and Gen Z will only continue that trend.
We all need to feel respected in the workplace to stay engaged and motivated. Respect looks a little different for each generation, as they value different treatment that affects perceptions of respect. Generation X considers time their most valuable resource, they were the “inventors” of work/life balance. Therefore, you show Gen X respect by giving them their time. This means that you are not overloading them will unnecessary meetings and tasks which limits their ability to be productive with what really matters and cuts into their personal time.
Baby Boomers, on the other hand, feel respected when you give them your time. They value one-on-one relationships. They want to talk in person and on the phone. They like meetings and they like working with others.
Millennials want to be part of the decision-making process; they feel respected when they feel as though they have had input and their ideas have been heard. Generation Z have been influenced heavily by their Gen X parents and the speed at which the world works today, so they feel respected when you get directly to the point, give them work to do, and then let them go do it.
Embrace Generational Differences
As discussed previously in the overcoming stereotypes section, each generation does have their differences. The trick is to not get stuck in the stereotypes, but to embrace and leverage these differences to create an advantage. When you are managing multiple generations, you can make embracing your differences fun to help break the ice and open up communication. Help your team to understand each other’s differences, and what those differences mean for the team.
For example, younger generations value more flexible work schedules and are often more apt to work odd hours, while your Gen X and Baby Boomers are likely working more traditional hours. This is a difference that often causes conflicts among generations as older employees see their younger colleagues arriving at the office late and/or leaving early, while younger employees feel they are getting a greater share of the workload because they are more willing to work longer hours from home. Discuss this as a group and make sure that everyone is aware that they are being rated on the same scale of performance, no matter what time it is when they are putting in the work.
Open communication is a huge part of managing multiple generations on your team. When we think about communication in the context of generational differences, technology always comes up (usually rather quickly). Technology is an obvious generational gap, both in our personal and professional lives.
Managers often become frustrated by younger employees who seem to think it is acceptable to text or instant message an important communication to them. Generation X and Z generally prefer to work independently and become frustrated when they have to attend meetings that easily could have been handled with an email. Baby Boomers and Millennials both enjoy the social, collaborative environment of working in a group.
The importance of generational communication goes well beyond technology; however, as people tend to form social interactions and communication among people that are similar to themselves. As a result, when multiple generations are thrust together in the workplace, the natural result is often the formation of homogeneous groups, or “cliques”. This fracturing of your team can produce costs in communication that affect your bottom line.
A great way to break down generational communication barriers is to create a cross-mentorship program. In traditional mentoring, an older, more experienced employee or manager mentors a younger, less experienced one. Cross-mentorship encourages team members to mentor up, down, and sideways to facilitate skills and knowledge sharing. This means that less experienced employees are learning from those that may have better executive presence and relationship-building skills, while veteran employees are learning technical skills from your younger employees. This also means that everyone is learning cross-functional skills, which increases innovation, productivity, and engagement overall.
Leaders and managers face many challenges in today’s ever-changing business environment, and managing multiple generations is no exception. By overcoming stereotypes, embracing differences, and opening cross-generational communication, leaders can influence multigenerational team collaboration that will impact your bottom-line through greater creativity, innovation, and productivity.