Mind the gap: managing multiple generations

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Sandra Johnson

Sandra Johnson

Diversity issues in the workplace have existed for decades. It isn’t uncommon to associate diversity with ethnicity, religion or gender. Workplace diversity, however, encompasses additional characteristics, such as age, tenure, experience, education and work styles.

Corporate America is faced with balancing all types of diversity, but it has reached historic precedence when it comes to age. For the first time ever, the workforce is comprised of four generations of employees: Traditionalists (1933-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980) and Generation Y (1981-2000).

Each group has distinct characteristics, which can be an asset, but it also poses challenges by potentially obstructing effective communication and creating roadblocks to consensus and cohesion.

By understanding generational differences, employers and employees can more easily reap the benefits from having a diverse workforce.

The following list consists of generalized characteristics for each generation:

Traditionalists: This generation is characterized as loyal, conservative, detail-oriented and respectful. When it comes to leadership styles, they prefer a top-down chain of command and value acknowledgement for their experience and work.

Baby Boomers: Regarded by many as the most influential generation in the workplace because they occupy senior-level management roles, Baby Boomers are often viewed as competitive workaholics, optimistic and results-oriented. They thrive on in-person meetings and are also nonconformists who question authority. They want respect and feel everyone should pay their dues to move ahead.

Generation X: The first generation to grow up alongside technology, Generation Xers are described as self-starters with entrepreneurial and flexible traits who crave work-life balance. While appreciating structure and direction, Generation Xers don’t like to be micromanaged. They can be loyal, but are not as attached to an organization like previous generations.

Generation Y: Also called Millennials, they are confident non-conformists who are collaborative, open-minded and socially conscious. They’ve never lived without technology and can be demanding since they usually get their way, such as advancing in the workplace. Millennials seek personal satisfaction and as a result have the highest turnover rate. This generation is very capable of multi-tasking, so it expects flexibility and work-life balance.

Here’s how to help these generations work better together and stay motivated:

Adjust communication. Each generation has a preferred method of communication. A Traditionalist or Baby Boomer might prefer a face-to-face meeting whereas a Generation X or Y employee may prefer e-mail or virtual conference. To help resolve potential issues, employees need to consider accommodating each group’s style.

Encourage mentoring. Older employees may retire or shift to a part-time position in upcoming years. Mentoring helps employers and employees prepare for the transition, and also stimulates knowledge sharing. It’s important to make sure older employees offer suggestions and provide constructive feedback rather than “telling” younger employees what to do. Older employees are usually as eager to learn as younger co-workers.

Customize motivation and incentives. It’s important to find the right motivation for each group. While older employees may value monetary incentives, younger employees could prefer additional time off.

Adapt recruiting. With more Millennials entering the workforce, companies may rethink recruiting. A more casual environment, flexible hours and telecommuting appeal to younger and older workers alike. Many companies also offer volunteering as a benefit to attract Millennials, who have the highest volunteer rate.

Generational diversity can be a potent stimulant for growth and profit, or merely a source of workplace friction.

The outcome largely depends on the willingness of employers to embrace the new dynamics.

Most employees want to feel good about what they accomplish. It’s the responsibility of all companies to help employees embrace diversity and find common ground to respect each other and work together.

Sandra Johnson is manager of HR for services for Insperity’s Denver office. Insperity, provides an array of human resources and business solutions designed to help improve business performance, with 57 offices throughout the nation. For more information, call 800-465-3800 or visit www.insperity.com.

One Response to Mind the gap: managing multiple generations

  1. The last three generations were all described as nonconformists. Guilty. And this nonconformist would like to show HR mucks where they can stick their background, credit, drug and certification tests. Why should I jump through your corporate hoops for a job that won’t even sustain me?

    Steven Shepard
    December 9, 2013 at 10:20 pm