Today’s workforce is unique in that there are now four generations of people working together — traditionalists born from the 1920s to the 1940s, baby boomers, Generation X and millennials.

That presents challenges to employers in bridging generational gaps and getting workers on the same page.

“There are now four generations of people in the workforce, and they all bring something very different to the table. They have unique characteristics in terms of values and what is important to them personally,” says Liz Howe, Director of Business Development at Benefitdecisions, Inc.

“There is a lot of buzz about the lack of communication among the generations. They come from different places and have different ways of doing things. It’s about getting them to play in the same sandbox, if you will.”

Smart Business spoke with Howe about the differences between generations and the affect it has on the workplace.

There have always been multiple generations in the workforce, how is it different now?

It’s that there are still people born in the ‘20s to ‘40s in the workforce in high, C-level roles, along with baby boomers, Generation X and young kids out of college.

Combine that with the progress made over the last 20 or 30 years in technology and the Internet. The world is a completely different place and that can pose challenges in getting things done. One segment of workers says, ‘This is how it’s been done,” while another says, ‘Why do we do it this way?’

How can you bring them all together?

Companies need to consider what’s important to each group. The traditional generation was raised in a really hard time and tends to revert to how things used to be done; Generation Xers don’t identify with that. If you have a Gen Xer managing a traditionalist, he or she needs to think about what is important to that person — a flexible work arrangement, succession planning and teaching them technology.

That same manager would handle a millennial differently. Priorities to a millennial are having a work/life balance and having a relationship with his or her supervisor that doesn’t involve micromanagement, but more of a team-oriented approach. So it might be more of a mentorship than just being a work manager.

With baby boomers, no news is good news. If a manager isn’t calling and asking questions, they’re in good standing.

What is the danger of managing everyone the same?

You lose the employee engagement factor, which is a hot topic these days. Millennials aren’t as loyal to companies as baby boomers, and if they’re not happy they will leave for a company that better fits their culture. That has become more socially acceptable and other generations are seeing that. Ten to 15 years ago it wasn’t acceptable to have four or five companies on your resume, now tenure is three years before people want a promotion or a different role.

You need to be thoughtful about managing employees and what types of benefits you’re providing by catering to what they find important. There’s been a real push toward wellness programs. Some businesses provide different types of insurance — pet insurance is huge. Other companies will match charitable contributions to an organization of the employee’s choice rather than just giving a cash bonus. People today are much less monetarily driven than they’ve ever been.

What are the benefits of having all of these generations together?

It brings some depth and breath of knowledge to an organization, along with a wide variety of skill sets. It’s an advantage to have people raised at a time when there was little or no technology all the way down to people who don’t know anything but technology and the Internet.

The challenge is to get them to communicate with each other so you can take full advantage of their knowledge.

Liz Howe is director of Business Development at Benefitdecisions, Inc. Reach her at (312) 376-0452 or lhowe@benefitdecisions.com.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by Benefitdecisions, Inc.

Published in Chicago