Employee Corner

Managing a multi-generational workforce

Managing a multi-generational workforce

Millennials, Gen Xers, Baby boomers, silent generation and Gen Z – today, five generations try to coexist at workplaces. For organizations, this scenario is both an opportunity and a challenge.

Opportunity: to drive innovation by utilizing the knowledge, expertise, and wisdom of each of these generations.

Challenge: bringing together diverse employees to co-work, as teams or in groups.

Can five generations work together?

Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton School and co-author of Managing the Older Worker, points to generational tensions in workplaces: a younger employee managing older people, an older colleague refusing to adapt to processes introduced by a younger manager, and more. 

On the contrary, an article by the Harvard Business Review urges us to look at these differences from another perspective. Thinking of generational differences as the major affects our behavior. Studies with twenty thousand people revealed that even though individuals may experience different needs, preferences, and interests, the reasons for these differences might not be generational. 

Perceptions about generational differences affect the workplace

● One of the most common beliefs about older workers in the age group of 50 and 60 years is that they are not technology savvy. This preconception can have adverse effects. When employees of the older generation are being trained in using new software and technology, the trainers have low expectations from them. This impacts the way they teach and the way the learners learn with low motivation, which ultimately results in low job performance.

● In the same way, the belief about millennials being less disciplined, too, affects their behavior further. Millennials might go out of their way to behave differently and fail to build a real connection. 

Now that we have two different perspectives on this, let’s look at ways in which organizations can align their cultures to make the workplace cross-generational.

Discuss multi-generations openly in the workplace

Talk to employees about stereotypes and biases that may be creeping in. Encourage employees to share experiences related to their age openly and try to remove ageist beliefs in non-threatening ways. Highlight the benefits of working in an age-diverse atmosphere. 

Build capacity for collaboration and communication

97% of employees feel that lack of communication and collaboration impacts the outcome of a task or project. If you are a team manager, do your team members message each other, share documents, and collaborate in real-time while working on projects together? If you are a part of a team, do you feel comfortable using the communication platforms provided by your organization? 

Ease professional development across generations

The research found that 33% of workers over the age of 45 years feel vulnerable because of their age. They experience job insecurity, stagnation and career plateau. Generational bias in organizations isn’t a myth. Senior employees not chosen for new projects with tight deadlines with the assumption that they might be too slow or a junior employee refused to lead a team considering s/he is too young. Organizations need to ease out fears of professional development related to their age. 

Create a porous workplace

“A thriving workplace should be porous,” says Diana Fischer, director, Global Impact and Employee Programs. Workplaces must inculcate a high level of transparency and respect for opinions across age groups. The two key aspects of creating a porous workplace:

● Understand the differences between generations in your workplace. It is important.

● It is important to treat people as individuals, and not based on what age group they belong to.

The Harvard Business Review makes it easier for us with key principles to remember.

Do

● Experiment with mixed-age teams. Implement reverse mentoring programs that enable older, experienced workers to interact with and learn from younger employees.

● Conduct regular human resources survey to get a pulse on your employees’ demographics and needs.

Don’t

● Bother with generation-based employee affinity groups — they generally reinforce stereotypes.

● Act like a top-down manager — forge partnerships with employees of different ages and encourage them to share their opinions.

● Assume you already know how to motivate employees who are older or younger — ask them what they want out of their professional lives.

To sum it up

Organizations that embrace diversity, view the multi-generational workforce as an opportunity, not as a problem. It is important, not just for the organization, its leaders, HR, and team managers, but for each employee, too, to understand the benefits of working in an age-diverse workplace. When we come together, we learn, communicate, teach, share, collaborate, and re-invent mind-sets about the innumerable possibilities. Possibilities only multiply when employees of diverse age groups come together.