Both at work and in everyday y life, each generation has something unique to offer. However, the culture gap between generations can make things uncomfortable at times, leaving people feeling less welcome. So how do we create a work culture that brings people together instead of tearing them apart? This is the core of my article, so I encourage you to read forward and find out.
What makes a generation anyway
Before anything else, let’s look at each generation and identify their unique characteristics.
Baby boomers are between 50 and 70 years of age. Most likely, they have senior-level positions. They’re used to hard-work and make sacrifices to succeed. They are ambitious and loyal, which is exactly what makes them valuable for any team and company.
Generation X includes people who are now in their 40s, most probably in mid-level positions. They are adaptable, individualistic, and entrepreneurial, while valuing work-life balance. X-ers have been the first to really experience the advancements of technology and the first for whom the teaching path changed: suddenly young people started teaching their parents how to work things, instead of the other way around. Generation X knows how to get the job done efficiently without sacrificing their personal lives in the name of productivity.
Millennials incorporate generations Y (born in the 1980s to early 1990s) and Z (people born in the mid-1990s to mid 2000s – sometimes called “post-millennials”). They make up the majority of today’s workforce, holding entry-level to mid-level positions mostly in start-ups and tech companies. They value freedom and usually prefer working remotely, while also enjoying teamwork and collaboration. Millennials are self-confident and results-oriented. Also, they place great value on social change and diversity. They’re focused on doing meaningful work and they want a positive and collaborative environment.
As we can see, each generation of employees has its distinctive traits, unique values and particular preferences. So, let’s analyze the biggest differences in some of the most important areas of work.
Generation gaps in the workforce
A survey ran last year by Robert Half Management Resources on over 2,200 CFOs discovered the greatest inter-generational differences between workers in the following areas:
30% of CFOs point to communication skills as the biggest difference between generations. While Generation Z prefers in-person interactions, Y-ers are more inclined towards collaborative communication. On the other hand, Generation X takes a control-and-command approach, while baby boomers seem to be communicating the least.
The next important difference addressed by 26% of the surveyed CFOs is the perception of work changes. Younger generations are more likely to see change as a challenge that brings forth new opportunities. While senior employees seem to be used to change in the workplace, they show reluctance and little enthusiasm about it.
Finally, 23% of CFOs think there is a major gap between the technical skills of the different generations.
All generations expect to receive trainings and learning opportunities from their companies. The difference is, however, that while baby boomers and Generation X prefer more traditional classes led by an instructor, millennials prefer collaborative trainings centered around technology.
In every aspect of life, millennials are centered around technology and they are more than happy to make the best of it in the workplace. Most baby boomers and even Gen X-ers still use pen and paper to plan their projects, agendas to schedule their meetings and emails to share news and files. Millennials rely mostly on organizing apps like IFTTT, Google Calendar, and digital communication apps to communicate and organize their lives.
Now, that we’ve identified the various ways in which generations function the workplace, let’s see how you can manage a multi-generational team and create a work culture that suits everyone.
Creating a multi-generational-inclusive work culture
A work culture that accepts and appreciates differences can only benefit both employees and business goals. Though, managing multiple generations can be quite a challenge, here are some proven strategies you should consider.
#1 Be flexible
One of the most important traits of a multi-generational manager is flexibility.
Be open to different communication styles: face-to-face, phone, email, or team communication solutions. Each generation has their preferences and it’s not hard to guess that while millennials would prefer texting via a mobile app, baby boomers would rather talk to you in person or at the phone, while Gen X is still attached to their email. Asking everyone to change their ways might simplify things. At the same time, it might create frustration among those who are asked to make the biggest changes in order to adjust. Avoid all that by being open and flexible.
#2 Facilitate mentorship
Each member of your team should take the responsibility in helping and mentoring their peers. Building each other up should be their modus operandi.
When different generations are involved, you should avoid assuming that senior employees should always take the lead. On the contrary, allowing new employees to make decisions might offer a fresh perspective that will definitely help everyone improve.
#3 Discourage stereotyping
Millennials might see baby boomers as ‘old’ and surpassed by technology, while baby boomers often think that millennials are overconfident and don’t take anything seriously.
Clearly, while some of these misconceptions might be true for some individuals, they cannot describe an entire generation. Therefore, a good leader should avoid falling in the trap of stereotyping. Don’t always assign important tasks to seniors, or technological assignments to young people. It will send the message that you are judgmental.
#4 Create mixed teams
Diversity is extremely important in building a fair and equal work culture. But besides ethics, research shows that diversity boosts performance, productivity and profitability. By encouraging people to bring their unique perspective to the table, you minimize the risk of failure.
So instead of creating teams where people share the same interests and viewpoints, stir things up a little by creating mixed teams, encouraging different generations to collaborate.
#5 Do team retreats
Bonding with your peers is hard enough in the workplace, even for people who obviously have a lot in common. If you’re dedicated to creating a work culture that accommodates all generations, you need to give them a push in finding common ground.
Leave the office for a day, or even more, and engage your team in inter-generational bonding activities. Everyone might be surprised to find out how much they have in common with people from other generations.
#6 Find common ground
Regardless of which generation they are part of, the people on your team share a goal: doing the best work they can for the good of the company. At the end of the day, everyone wants to get the job done, present their projects, and be successful.
So make sure that your team is constantly aware of the company goals; it’s what should keep them together, in spite of their differences.
#7 Offer feedback and guidance
No matter how young or old, employees always appreciate one-on-one talks with their managers. Receiving praise, constructive feedback and guidance is equally important in the career development of each individual. It’s your responsibility to hear people out and offer a helping hand when they struggle.
All in all, creating a work culture that suits all generations isn’t really the greatest management challenge. Leading by example, with an open heart and without prejudice will help you succeed while accommodating the needs and combining the skills of each generation under your lead.
Last but not least, keep in mind that people are different even within the same generation. While some categories might share common treats, never cease looking out for individuals.
Are you working in a multi-generational environment? Is the work culture in your company accommodating everyone? Share your experiences and opinions in the comments section below.