Now more than ever, the workplace is a very diverse place. Different races, cultures and creeds are coming together under one roof, and CEOs and managers are challenged with the task of getting everyone on the same page in a sensitive and respectful manner.
But, for all the tips and advice out there on managing a multicultural work force, you don’t hear as much about how to manage a multigenerational work force, even though it’s generally a more prevalent issue.
Right now, any given workplace could have members from three different generations: baby boomers (born 1943-1960), Generation X (1961-1981) and millennials (1982-2002).
Obviously, each generation is different. If you don’t understand each generation and its differences or if you try to manage everyone with a one-size-fits-all style, you’re going to run into issues.
“Each generation has its typical characteristics and behaviors,” says Nakita Harris, payroll manager for Ashton Staffing. “You have to be sensitive to that. You also have to understand how those personalities can mesh and clash. You can get people from multiple generations on the same page, but it takes time and effort.”
Smart Business spoke with Harris about multigenerational work forces and how to bridge the generation gap.
How do different generations impact the work force?
Each generation has a different outlook on what to expect from work. Gen-Xers generally will work hard while on the clock; they’ll give you their all. However, they want a life beyond work. They are very cautious and try to learn from the past mistakes of others before them. They are also more results-oriented.
Baby boomers bring experience and optimism to the table. They are team-oriented, good communicators and have strong work ethics. Millennials bring a fresh set of eyes. They are looking for ways to better themselves in life, and they are goal-oriented.
What benefits and opportunities come with a multigenerational work force?
One benefit is having fewer age discrimination complaints and/or lawsuits. When you’ve got people from many different generations, all your bases are covered. Plus, more and more baby boomers want to work past retirement age, so it’s a good idea to be accommodating to that request.
You can reduce the cost of new hires (recruiting, orientation, training, etc.) when you maintain your employees. Plus, you can meet the needs of a diverse range of clients.
Not only that, you can continue to recruit a multigenerational work force, which in turn will create more chances to promote from within. If handled correctly, productivity can increase because when you learn one another’s strengths and weaknesses, this gives you the opportunity to open up communication and let one who is stronger in one area work with someone else that is weak in that area.
What challenges come with a multigenerational work force?
Baby boomers and other older generations may feel left out with the new computer-driven age. Therefore, you have to keep an eye on your communication preferences. You have to communicate in different ways (phone, e-mail, text messages, letters, memos, etc.) to ensure the company as a whole is included on what’s going on. Also, you have to constantly think of creative ways to make everyone feel like they are integral parts of the company.
You have to offer flexible benefits, different levels and types of insurance (long-term care, hospitalization, family, etc.), savings, investments, flexible time off, training, health and wellness programs, and screenings. You have to make sure that you do not single out or leave out one particular generation.
How do business leaders effectively manage a multigenerational work force?
You have to cater to each generation; ask their input on decisions. Be flexible not everyone wants to work the traditional 9 to 5 shifts any longer. Offer mentoring programs; let the older ones mentor the younger ones. At the same time, be somewhat hands-off. No one likes to be micromanaged.
You have to have open communication between the generations because there are preconceived ideas about one another. Show everyone that they’re in it together, and they can build on and feed off of one another’s strengths. It may be a good idea to create an employee board or council and include a representative from each generation to be on that board or council.
Discuss the multigenerational aspect as soon as employees are hired. During orientation, educate the employees on how certain people contribute to the productivity of the company. For example, explain to millennials that they may have more education, but baby boomers have put in the experience and the way they work is very productive, and if they try to change that, it may become counterproductive. One thing that I have seen that is a good idea is the television show ‘Undercover Boss.’ It’s an example of giving management a good idea of what is needed to effectively run a productive company.
Nakita Harris is the payroll manager for Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1176 or firstname.lastname@example.org.