Now more than ever before companies are facing the challenge of managing up to five generations in their workforce; these encompass the Veterans or the Traditionalists, the Baby Boomers (1948-1963), Generation X (1964-1978), the Millennials (1979-1991) and Generation Z (they are just beginning to enter the workforce.) And while labels are fraught with generalizations, managing a multi-generational workforce can be a complex endeavor. It involves addressing individual needs and aspirations, dealing with differing values, work styles, expectations and, above all, understanding their differences and then embracing those differences to build even stronger teams.
A multi-generational workforce brings with it some distinct advantages such as access to a wide range of ideas and knowledge. But to take advantage of these advantages you need to move your company towards being a learning culture. First, you need to acknowledge that there are differences and then be transparent about the how you see these differences as strengths to be nurtured. For example, you can encourage, and even set up mutual learning opportunities where multi-generational teams or pairs can learn from each other while working together on a real project or task..
“The main challenge in engaging employees across generations is that generations differ in the way they approach work/life balance, loyalty, authority, and other issues that affect your organization,” said Diane Belcher, senior director, product management, at Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning in this HR Dive article.
Another barrier to maximizing the potential of your multi-generational workforce is not succumbing to negative stereotypes. For instance, older employees may perceive Millennials as tech-obsessed, fickle-minded, rebellious, or entitled. Millennials, on the other hand, may think Baby Boomers are difficult or not open to new ideas or ways of doing things. The onus is on the company to ensure that managers don’t let these negative stereotypes prevail. They can, in fact, encourage a culture of learning and creativity by leveraging younger employees’ enthusiasm for new technologies. At the same time, older workers can share their experience and perspective to help younger colleagues evaluate the potential risks and costs associated with their new ideas.
The fact is all employees regardless of their age want the same thing–to achieve their specific career goals, have a purpose, and to be engaged at work. Buying into stereotypes will rob your company of the opportunity to witness the best possible outcomes from this unique moment in history.
So, leverage the unique strengths and skills of each employee, irrespective of their age. Enable them to learn by doing and learn from one another. By doing so, you will help foster creativity, engagement, and collaboration. When everyone has the opportunity to thrive and learn at work they’ll be more productive, better team players, and ultimately happier.
Moving your company towards a culture of learning is a commitment, but one you can’t afford to ignore.