Traditionalists, those born prior to 1946; Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964; Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1977; and millennials, born in 1978 or later, are all working side by side in today’s workplace. There are fewer traditionalists than other generations at work, and while the youngest baby boomers are turning 52 this year, 22-year-old millennials are just starting their careers.
Succession planning should be well under way, and it involves more than just making sure Gen Xers and millennials are hired. How do you keep from alienating one segment, allowing knowledge transfer to another, providing a career path for others – all while keeping a high performing team? What can be done to create an atmosphere of trust and to get the maximum potential from employees of differing generations? How do you marry the energy, speed and experience of today’s workforce? A focus on individuals and similarities may be a key part of the answer.
There is much talk of the different generations and their views, motivations and performance in the work environment. This includes many agerelated stereotypes around technology, career advancement and team performance. “Boomers are set in their ways,” “Xers are entrepreneurial” and “millennials want to change the world today” are a just few of the stereotypical attitudes expressed about the generations. Other stereotypes include “older employees avoid technology,” “younger employees want to get to the top without spending time learning the job” or “results-oriented employees miss the importance of the process.”
Whatever the makeup of your workforce, the goal is to mitigate losing or alienating valuable employees. Recognize the workforce consists of individuals with differing experiences and backgrounds who have to come together for your organization’s mission. Your ability to identify and utilize the talent you have will determine the level of success your team enjoys.
How can we bring the generations together and get the most from a diverse group of employees? Successful organizations will need to seek out ways to make generational diversity a strategic advantage. Recognize that individuals who have differing core assumptions can work together and deliver innovative solutions as a unit. Being inclusive of all the generations will help to promote a team spirit, and recognizing each group’s contributions can help to keep everyone engaged.
Generational differences can create a strategic benefit when those differences are leveraged toward the organization’s mission. Forward-thinking managers can look at the work and delegate it in a way that builds on the strengths of each group. Creating multi-generational teams that leverage generational strengths can produce high performing teams, and celebrating differences can bring high achievement and satisfaction.
Looking at what employees close to retirement value versus those with a decade of experience or those new to the workforce is a factor in achieving greater employee work satisfaction. While this is a good tactic, there is more to the equation than just creating an environment of happiness based on age-related factors. Whether an employee is from the “Me-Generation” or the “slacker-generation,” realize there is not a one-size- fits-all solution.
Another important factor regarding generational diversity that has to be considered is human complexity. Not all Baby Boomers shy away from technology, and not all millennials want it. The best solution for getting the most from a multi-generational workforce is to create positive working relationships with individuals. Managers must take a step back from their own ideas and biases about generational differences and what that means in the organization.
Generational diversity in the workplace is a factor, but it is not always the determining factor of how teams will work together effectively. When managers begin to approach their teams with the individual’s strengths and similarities in mind rather than the generational differences, they can begin to cultivate a culture of inclusion and trust. By acknowledging the different backgrounds, experience and skills of team members, managers are creating a strong positive relationship with individuals. This helps to bring trust to the working relationship.
Of the many generational issues, trust is an important factor. In a study by Ernst and Young, 59 percent of respondents indicated trust in employers is indicated by their ability to communicate openly and transparently. An organization that delivers on its promises and provides opportunities for all to learn and advance is also seen as trustworthy.
Trust is valued across the generations. When an environment of trust is nurtured, an organization can experience the benefit of employees working to their full potential. Team members willingly share knowledge and expertise.
While the era one was born in has a definite effect on one’s view of the world, having a deeper understanding of individual human factors and working on relationships will be more effective in getting the most from a multi-generational workforce. Organizations should try to attract and retain talent of all ages and backgrounds; there are human similarities that surpass the generational differences to leverage your human resources.