It’s the time of year when interns descend upon the workforce, fresh-faced, ambitious and eager to learn. When I was told that our intern Max would be shadowing me throughout the day and that I’d be responsible for keeping him busy, I have to admit it seemed more like a hindrance than a help.
That is until a simple social media question arose.
As an older Gen-Xer, I consider myself tech-savvy. After all, I grew up with the World Wide Web. I remember when googling something replaced having to consult the encyclopedia. I remember when cell phones replaced fishing for quarters to use a pay phone. And I remember being one of the last holdouts among my friends to join Facebook.
Max overheard when I became puzzled by a simple social media request. I stubbornly dismissed his offer to help me and assured him I knew what I was doing. And I’m sure my older brain would have figured out eventually, but as a young Millennial and digital native Max was able to accomplish the task with a few simple clicks of the mouse.
In the weeks since, it seems that we have both benefited from working together. While managing a multigenerational workforce could present a challenge, there are certainly benefits and opportunities for learning which should be examined.
Today’s workforce consists of four generations. With Generation Z (those born between 1996 and 2010) now of legal working age, there may be five! Each group is different in what motivates them, how they communicate, and what keeps them happy and productive. The key to being an effective multigenerational manager is to employ strategies for engaging them in ways that appeal to them, and to allow them opportunities to benefit from each other.
The Four Generations of Your Workforce
Let’s take a look at the groups and how you can engage them, keeping in mind that every individual is unique:
Traditionalists (born before 1945) – They tend to be disciplined rule-followers who respect authority. They are loyal and comfortable with hierarchy. They believe in the importance of tenure and are more likely to equate dedication to a job with time spent sitting at their desks. They typically respond well to a directive style of leadership and like to be rewarded for dedication to their job.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964) – This group is competitive, goal-oriented, ambitious, and have a strong work ethic. Too strong it seems; while they invented the idea of “work-life balance” they struggle with incorporating it into their own lives. Despite their competitive nature, they strongly value teamwork and collaboration. Set challenging goals to get them motivated and encourage friendly competition among teams.
Generation X (1965-1980) – The original latchkey kids, this group is independent, pragmatic, resourceful, innovative, and results-focused. Having lived through mergers, downsizing, and scandals, they are less likely to be loyal to corporations. Gen Xers appreciate having freedom. Give them the resources they need to accomplish their goals, then allow them to work at their own pace.
Millennials or Generation Y (1981-1995) – Millennials are used to having technology at their fingertips. As a result, they have a constant need to feel connected. They are confident, well-educated, and highly collaborative. According to a recent Economic News Release from U.S. DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median years of tenure for the 25-34 years age group is 3. (It’s more than 10 for employees who are age 55+.) Entice them to stick around by challenging them and presenting them with opportunities to learn. Millennials tend to be socially-conscious so, if possible, help them find purpose in their work.
Too often stereotyping gets in the way of generations working together cooperatively. Millennials are often perceived as lazy and tech-obsessed while older generations may be viewed as being stuck in their ways. It is important to foster an environment of mutual respect.
To encourage acceptance, provide opportunities for employees of different generations to work together. Encourage two-way mentoring. Younger workers are more likely to be comfortable with technology and have enthusiasm for trying new things, while older workers possess the wisdom, experience, and knowledge needed to help channel that energy and get results. It’s this balance that makes a multigenerational workforce so desirable.