Managing a multi-generational workforce

April 12 2018
Managing a multi-generational workforce

By 2025, three out of four employees will be millennials. As with every generation, millennials present new challenges and are often perceived as difficult. This isn’t really anything new. Baby boomers were just as irritated by Generation X entering the workforce, while they were in turn a disappointment to The Greatest Generation. Terrifyingly, soon people born in the year 2000, or Gen Z, will be annoying the old guard in workplaces around the world.  

As people work later and later into their old age, there is a good chance that many companies will find themselves with four generations of employees. Each group offers valuable experience and valid perspectives that can help businesses create innovative solutions. However, harnessing these disparate generations can be a challenge in itself, with each group having different expectations of a job and company, different ways of approaching tasks, and a different perception of the world.

Having people of all ages coming together can be fraught, but it doesn’t have to be. Firstly, forget about the idea that they will fit neatly into the general description of their age group. You’ll find older people with an affinity for computer technology, and young people who can’t even turn one on. Young people who love gardening and crochet, 60-year-old’s who play Call of Duty to unwind.

Avoiding generational labels and adopting an individual-based management style will help get the most out of each person in your team. Every personality is different and where some people might respond to a more confrontational management style, others will react more positively to a gentler one. Tailoring your approach to each employee will help you get to know them, which will in turn build a bond. No one wants to feel like other people are treated differently but likewise, no one likes getting the impression that their manager is attempting one of the six styles of management they were reading about the night before.

Keeping generational tension to a minimum is based on finding commonalities between different people. Providing opportunities for interaction and friendship can be as simple as having a communal lunch space and providing regular chances for informal interaction is important. Low stress activities, such as bowling or bowls, where people can spend time together without the barriers of job titles and department divisions, are good ways of getting people to interact in a social, obligation-free way.  Too many businesses get the social aspects of their workplace culture wrong, forcing people to interact in a company approved manner. The mandatory fun approach might unite your workforce, but more likely against your management than in any positive way.

Whether an employee is fresh out of study or entering their fourth decade of employment, one thing they all need, is to feel engaged in their role and have a sense of ownership about their work. Unrest in a workplace environment often has little to do with the age of co-workers and is based on not feeling valued or respected. Ensuring that everyone has a chance to see their ideas and thoughts shape the culture and direction of a business is a powerful motivator.