Corporate America is faced with balancing all areas of diversity, but one area that often has been overlooked and is becoming increasingly common is age diversity. For the first time in history, as people stay in the workforce longer, four generations of employees are now working together. Each group has unique strengths and differences, which can be an asset, but can also lead to misunderstanding, conflict and miscommunication if managed incorrectly.
According to a survey conducted by BridgeWorks, 65 percent of employees agreed that generation gaps make it harder to get things done at work, and one-third said someone from another generation often offended them at work.
Different generations have different core values and attributes that set each group apart, whether it’s how they communicate to the type of office space they desire. Businesses succeed when they have a cohesive environment, so all managers and employees must educate themselves on generational differences in the workforce. The following list consists of generalized characteristics that typically define each generation.
Traditionalists (Born prior to 1945). This generation is loyal, conservative, detail-oriented and respectful of authority. When it comes to leadership styles, they prefer a top-down chain of command and value acknowledgement for their experience and work. Management considerations: Promotions could be based on a long-term employment history, or “tenure attitude.” Managers should also utilize the chain of command and ensure that there is respect between themselves and employees.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964). Currently the largest and most influential generation, Baby Boomers are viewed as competitive workaholics who are optimistic, results-oriented and question authority. They want respect and feel everyone should pay their dues in order to move ahead, and are relationship-focused and thrive on meetings. Management considerations: Reinforce their high need to succeed, and understand that their career often is “who they are.”
Generation X (1965-1980). As the first generation to grow up alongside technology, Generation X is often characterized as independent self-starters with entrepreneurial and flexible traits. While they like to be given structure and direction, Generation X doesn’t like to be micromanaged and craves a flexible work-life balance. They can be loyal employees, but are not as attached to organizations as previous generations. Management considerations: Because they are a “work to live” generation, be mindful of offering a work-life balance, and consider offering flexibility when it comes to hours and telecommuting. Also be mindful that they are likely to switch jobs in order to advance
Generation Y (1981-2000). Also known as the “Millennials,” they are confident non-conformists who are collaborative, open-minded and socially conscious. They’ve never lived without technology. This group can be very demanding since they usually get what they want, particularly when it comes to moving ahead in the workplace. Generation Y seeks personal satisfaction in their work, and as a result have the highest turnover rate. While this generation is very capable of multi-tasking, it also expects flexible hours and work-life balance, and is often seen as delaying the transition to traditional “adulthood.” Management Considerations: This generation likes frequent acknowledgement and recognition. Managers should also tap into their desire to be creative and involved in multiple tasks and duties.
Given the differences between generations, there are several improvements organizations can make to help these distinct groups work better together and stay motivated.
Each generation has its own preferred method of communication. A Traditionalist or Baby Boomer might prefer a face-to-face meeting whereas a Generation X or Y employee may prefer e-mail. To help resolve potential issues, employees need to consider accommodating each group’s style. For example, an occasional face-to-face talk instead of only sending e-mails to an older co-worker goes a long way in showing flexibility.
Many older employees may retire or take on a part-time position in the upcoming years. Mentoring prepares for this transition and allows employees to learn from one another. It is important to make sure older employees offer suggestions and provide feedback rather than “tell” younger employees what to do. In addition, older employees are just as eager to learn as their younger co-workers. While the older generation may not be as technologically savvy as the younger ones, they are capable of using technology in some capacity and will probably welcome the opportunity to learn more.
Customize motivation and incentives
It is important to find the right motivation for each group. While older employees may value monetary incentives for hard work on a project, younger employees might prefer time off from work.
Because employees operate differently and view their jobs differently, performance evaluations should be considered on a more individual level, rather than using a generic one-size-fits-all approach. Certain generations may be stronger at specific areas of job performance, and others might be weaker. Personalizing evaluations ensures companies can maximize their employees’ strengths and weaknesses.
More creative recruiting
With a growing number of Millennials entering the workforce, companies need to rethink their recruiting to adapt to various types of candidates, and ensure that they are prepared for the future, when older employees might retire. A comfortable environment, flexible hours and telecommuting all are very appealing and important for today’s generation. Many companies are also offering volunteering opportunities as a benefit to attract Generation Y, which has the highest volunteer rate.
At the end of the day, most employees want to contribute and feel good about what they’ve accomplished at work. It’s the responsibility of all companies to help employees understand their diversity and find common ground to respect each other and work together.
This article was co-written by Eric Bonugli and Kay Oder
Eric Bonugli is a district manager and Kay Oder is a Certified Business Performance Advisor for Insperity located in the company’s Austin office. Insperity, a trusted advisor to America’s best businesses for more than 27 years, provides an array of human resources and business solutions designed to help improve business performance. For more information, call 800-465-3800 or visit http://www.insperity.com