How to successfully manage a multigenerational work force

Sherri Elliott-Yeary, CEO, Optîmance Workforce Strategies; founder, Gen InsYght

Thousands of would-be retirees, their retirement accounts depleted, remain in the ranks of the employed. At the same time, another graduating class enters the job market every year. These two factors are creating a clash of the generations, and managing a multigenerational work force continues to get more and more challenging for business leaders and managers.

Most companies and managers are doing their very best to remain strong and deliver on expectations through the recession. But this becomes extremely difficult when, for the first time in history, the work force comprises four distinct generations: traditionalists, boomers, Generation Xers, and millennials.

Each group has strong assets that managers can tap into in order to make their businesses more effective and successful. For example, traditionalists and boomers tend to bring drive, determination, and vast amounts of knowledge and experience to any company that they work for. Boomers, however, tend to be less team-oriented than millennials. Boomers are also used to acquiring information and more inclined to keeping it to themselves because they feel like knowledge is power. But the problem is if they can’t effectively communicate with and train younger generations, their employers will lose profitable knowledge. Millennials, after all, must be effectively trained. Because Xers tend to be fundamentally independent, they are often free thinkers and can be a valuable source of fresh ideas to revamp your organization. You should always ask for their input. And the millennials usually thrive in team environments and typically are not shy about putting in their two cents about anything you may ask them about or want an opinion on. They are also a fountain of fresh ideas. Additionally, they tend to be highly productive and excellent multitaskers.

Right now, millennials are a hot commodity on the job market, mainly because they are cheap hires. After all, older Xers and boomers are looking for higher wages and the corner office, and sometimes executives mistakenly think it makes sense to lay them off and replace them with cheaper labor.

Yet this strategy creates a problem. It might seem like replacing older employees with lower-paid millennials makes financial sense, but it really doesn’t if you stop and think about the true implications of doing something like this. If there are no boomers and Xers around to train the millennials, the company will suffer. Untrained millennials may take hours to complete tasks that a trained boomer could complete in five minutes, so this would actually increase a company’s cost of doing business.

It’s important to make sure you’re maintaining a good generational mix and facilitating communication and knowledge transfer across generations. It can only help your bottom line.

Consider these three tips for managing today’s multigenerational work force:

1. When you are trying to get a point across, always keep your audience in mind. If you can understand generational differences, then you can tailor your communication to speak powerfully to your targeted demographic.

2. Abandon “one-size-fits-all” thinking. Different generations are motivated by different things. Accordingly, you should use a range of recruiting and incentive strategies to make sure your company appeals to all four generations instead of just one or two.

3. To make sure incoming employees are properly trained, allow them to choose their own training methods, as they each have different preferences. Whereas a boomer may learn best by attending a live class, a millennial may prefer to take a webinar instead. Allow your employees to choose the training methods that work best for them, and in doing so, they’ll respond better to the training and be more effective in the organization.

Sherri Elliott-Yeary is CEO of Optîmance Workforce Strategies, founder of Gen InsYght and author of “Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage.” Contact her at [email protected]