In a world with decreasing birth rates, longer life expectancy and better working conditions, the employee longevity is increasing. The results are Baby Boomer, Generation X, and Millennial cohorts working alongside each other. As each generation has different work expectations, this multigenerational workforce presents a critical challenge for business managers.
The workplace is becoming multigenerational. Now and in the future, different generations with different backgrounds, cultures, expectations and work styles will be expected to work alongside each other in an efficient manner.
Managing across generations is not an easy tasks, however, and a recent human resource management study of organisations with more than 500 employees reported that 58% of the managers experience conflicts between younger and older employees on a frequent basis.
For managers, an understanding of the multigenerational working behaviours is necessary in order to be able to handle these conflicts and create an efficient and inclusive workplace. Below we present some of the key challenges in this modern workforce, and how managers effectively can deal with them.
Challenge no. 1: Age
A preference exists among employees to work and interact with people of similar age. In a world of age-diverse organisations, this will create new workplace challenges for managers to learn the intentions and specific traits of all ages and find a way to integrate them in cohesive teams. It will require creating teams in such a way where older generations of employees best can apply their extensive experience, and young generations can add to the quality of the workforce through providing newer skill sets and techniques.
To make this work, managers must create a workplace environment that is flexible enough to suit the different work styles and attitudes across age groups. For older generations, this might mean focusing on employee wellness and work-life balance, whereas it for younger generations might mean a flexible work environment with a chance to work from whenever, wherever.
Emphasis must also be placed on improving communication between the diverse generations to enhance the cross-generational understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Managers who can build on the strengths of each generation and address the arising problems will without a doubt be the most successful in the future.
Challenge no. 2: Values
Each of the generational cohorts brings different values to the workplace. Influential events such as economic recessions, periods of war and developments within technology shaped values in a way differing from one generation to the other.
While Baby Boomers value individuality and place importance on material success, Generation X are more focused on flexible work arrangements, family time and faster promotional opportunities. And Millennials value social activities, personal freedom and workplace engagement.
These values transmit to the workplace. Baby Boomers expect younger generations of employees to have the same commitment to long work hours and respect hierarchical structures which they grew up with.
With strong emphasis on the family, Generation X on the other hand enjoy flexible work hours and prefer less supervision as well. This combined with the generation of Millennials, who value time off of work, sets a stage for a conflicting atmosphere at work.
Understanding the differences in values will be vital to manage the diverse attitudes and drive the organization forward. Business managers must be focused on honouring the diverse ways of contributing to the workplace and acknowledge the efforts of each team member, regardless of the work style.
Challenge no. 3: Communication
The differences in styles of communication between young and older employees may be obvious. Millennial rely on utilising social media or other digital technologies to communicate with people in their environment, whereas Baby Boomers and older Generation X’s prefer communicating face-to-face or via phone calls and emails.
Also, the communication style of the younger generations is more informal and relies heavily on the use of abbreviations, compared to older generations of employees. If not handled correctly, these communicational differences can lead to serious organisational battles.
Breaking the multigenerational barriers
There is no doubt that business managers must adjust the style of management to improve effectiveness among the generations. The multigenerational setting requires managers to educate themselves and address the needs of all ages within the respective workplaces.
For business managers to be successful, the following management techniques and strategies can be considered to overcome the generational barriers in the workplace:
- Demonstrate flexibility. Different age groups have different personal and professional needs. Make sure to create a workplace that is open and flexible to different ways of working and work attitudes.
- Managers must make sure to use multiple communication channels when addressing their employees. This includes different meeting formats, style of personal communication and use digital media.
- As different generations bring different expectations to the office, frequent feedback, evaluation and encouragement will be increasingly important for managers to implement as part of the daily work routines.
- Create space for knowledge sharing. Let the older and more experienced generations of employees act as career mentors for the younger generation, while at the same time creating an environment where younger generations can inspire the older workers with new innovative solutions and ways of working.
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