For the first time in history, today’s labor force now includes members of five generations. As many baby boomers are working well past traditional retirement age, businesses may include workers ranging in age from the late teens to the eighties. While there’s no shortage of discussion about generational diversity in the workplace, there’s a lot more to the story — and much of it is good news.
Case in point: the 2013 Benefits for Tomorrow Study by The Hartford found that almost nine in ten Millennials say “Baby Boomers in the workplace are a great source of mentorship.” The feeling is mutual: 93 percent of baby boomers say “Gen Yers bring new skills and ideas to the workplace.”
Still, the multigenerational workplace does pose some challenges — from divides in digital fluency to differences in views of work-life balance. We’ve compiled some suggestions from experts at Aerotek and throughout the industry to help managers make generational diversity work for their businesses.
Take advantage of the skills each generation can offer the company and each other — and capitalize on those differences. “A lot of companies do this effectively through mentorships,” says Brent Pridgen, director of business operations for Aerotek. “Pair a senior employee with a junior employee, and a lot of times both parties learn something from that. A trait of a good leader and entrepreneur is being a continuous learner.”
Having high expectations for all instills a sense of ownership and accountability while providing opportunities to work together to meet shared goals. “There has to be a common belief that all are capable,” says Pridgen. “When you do that, you have the ability to redistribute the workload where you have all generations contributing. It comes back to having leaders and managers who take each opportunity as a chance to develop the people involved, and that’s going to be cross-generational.”
Increasing the level of responsibility for staff members sends a strong message: We trust you and value your contributions.
While some people may prefer online modes of communication via texting or email, others may favor face-to-face or telephone. Once colleagues are made aware of these preferences, most will have no trouble accommodating them. Small accommodations such as this can go a long way toward making people feel more comfortable working together.
Gen Xers may show their professional commitments by spending long hours at their desks, while millennials are said to be less concerned with where they work and more concerned with what they produce. “For leaders, a good way to approach this is to allow individuals to work in the style that's best for them and acknowledge the efforts of each team member, regardless of their work style,” suggests Nicole Fallon, assistant editor at Business News Daily. However, organizations should be prepared to address any conflicts caused by these differing styles. Provide employees with clearly written policies. Let them know not only what’s considered appropriate, but what’s expected in terms of deadlines and performance. Revisit these policies with employees as needed or when concerns arise.
Research shows that, despite differences, employees have similar goals and concerns. “When you hear people reference Millennials, they make it sound like they want something different,” says Pridgen. “But I think Millennials want the same things. They want to feel engaged. They want to feel like they’re part of something bigger, and they’re valued.”
Don't we all?
Companies that encourage employees to find common ground — from shared goals to team unity — will find the results reach far beyond the bottom line.