For the first time in modern U.S. history, companies are employing four generations of workers. Four generations in the workplace can mean more opportunity for success or more problems, depending on how an organization deals with the generational differences.
“We’ve never had four generations working side-by-side, a 20-year-old working with colleagues that may be 50 years older. In order to work together, you have to honor those differences, and you can’t expect everyone to act and think like you do,” says Terri Walker, principal human capital consultant at TriNet, Inc.
Smart Business spoke with Walker about the ways various generations view their jobs and how to manage employees to create a happier, more productive workplace.
What challenges come with having four generations of workers?
An older, more experienced worker (born before 1946) or baby boomer (1946-1964) may have different values than someone coming to the workplace for the first time. Those employees likely expect a level of respect that a Generation X (1965-1977) or Generation Y/millennial (1978 and later) employee wouldn’t automatically give just based on age. The younger workers value the knowledge and achievements you bring to the workplace more than just the fact you’ve been there a long time.
Additionally, there are differences in how generations communicate. Frequently, Gen X/Gen Y workers prefer instant messaging (IM) or email, whereas other workers might value meeting face-to-face and going to a person’s desk to have a conversation. Older workers may feel it’s rude to IM or send a text when you’re in the same building, while the younger worker thinks you’re bothering them by taking time to walk to their desk.
No one way is right or wrong; they’re just different. When you understand and respect these differences, you’ll have a more productive workplace. You don’t have to agree with each other’s values, but you have to respect them.
What are the risks of managing everyone the same?
You’re going to have employees who are not satisfied with their work environment because policies are too loose or too stringent. Employees generally know and understand work duties, but management style is what drives them toward other opportunities. High turnover brings costs in recruiting, management time and loss of productivity. The last thing you want is churn because of the work environment.
It’s up to management to bring everyone together, to find what motivates employees and tailor rewards that keep employment interesting for all. Someone who’s been with the company for years may be waiting for that gold Rolex watch at retirement, while a younger employee wants an immediate — though smaller — reward for a job well done, maybe a Starbucks gift card.
Most of us grew up with the golden rule that you treat others the way you want to be treated. However, a new rule has come into play, the ‘titanium rule’ — treat others the way they want to be treated. That involves understanding what motivates them and treating them accordingly.
How can a company bring people together?
First, look at and understand your employee base. What are the different generations? Does one generation dominate your workforce or management team? How well do they work together?
What methods does your organization use to communicate? How is technology being utilized? How are managers communicating with employees? Also, look at turnover to see if there are peaks in a particular department, which could indicate a problem with communication or work style.
Once you’ve conducted an analysis, work with executive management to find the gaps where you could be doing better. Make sure managers, supervisors and all employees feel they are valued. This approach creates a robust, productive workplace where everyone is engaged and respected, which brings real benefits in dollars and cents.
Ensure that your leaders have the knowledge and skills to communicate and work effectively with all employees. It takes flexibility and open-mindedness, a willingness to look at different ways of doing things. Successful organizations and managers incorporate these elements into their structure and practice them daily.
Terri Walker, SPHR, is a Principal Human Capital Consultant at TriNet, Inc. Reach her at (510) 352-5000 or [email protected]
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