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Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce

By Fareed Kaisani Email By Fareed Kaisani
December 2013
Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce

Many companies face issues that stem from having a multigenerational workforce. As older workers remain in the workforce longer, offices now include employees ranging in age from twenty-something to 60-plus. Problems can arise if management is not aware of the differences in managing the various age groups, each of which has a different work ethic, attitude towards their work, work habits and communication styles. The frictions may be aggravated by new technology that makes communication less personal and work projects that mix workers of different generations. A lack of understanding about these generational differences can have damaging effects on working relationships and undermine effective services.

A lot has been written about the different generations, but to re-cap, our current American workforce is made up of Baby Boomers, individuals born between 1946 and 1964, Gen X-ers, individuals born between 1965 and 1977, and Gen Y-ers, also known as “Millennials,” who were born after 1978. Although every worker is an individual, researchers have noted certain common characteristics associated with each generation. Baby Boomers are more hierarchical in nature, believing that people need to pay their dues as they work their way up in an organization. They tend to prefer in-person meetings, opting for face time over other forms of communication. Gen X-ers value work-life balance after watching their parents’ generation burn out. They are often skeptical of management and more independent and entrepreneurial. The Millennials are more creative and flexible in their attitude towards work. They are looking for meaning in their jobs, often from Day One. They prefer teamwork, are technologically savvy and crave immediate feedback.

The key for managers dealing with multi-generational workplace issues is to be able to address and take advantage of the differences in the values and expectations of each generation. Managers must be cautious not to follow blanket generational stereotypes. Moreover, they must avoid putting older employees at a disadvantage, even inadvertently, or they may risk retention problems and potential legal issues.

There are several strategies that managers/owners can employ to make the best of their multigenerational workplace. Management can facilitate mentoring between the different generational groups to promote more cross-generational communication. Older employees should learn to be open to the viewpoints offered by younger employees. Younger employees should learn to seek the insight and experience offered by senior employees. Most importantly, workers should be trained to understand generational differences.

Managers should consider offering flexible work options such as telecommuting or working at locations outside the office. Gen X-ers who may still be raising a family will appreciate the telecommuting option, while Gen Y-ers may be most productive sitting at a Starbucks rather than their desks. Different generations of workers will be in different phases of life and may need their employers to offer some scheduling flexibility to manage their personal situations. For instance, Boomers who are approaching retirement may want to reduce the number of hours they work in exchange for less pay. Additionally, managers can support Millennials who want to seek another degree part-time.

Management should also consider generational differences when designing employee recognition programs. Gen X-ers can be encouraged by more personal messages such as a congratulatory email or positive feedback. Boomers on the other hand respond better to an office-wide memo or a more public announcement. Millennials appreciate career advice or a unique assignment that is outside of their job descriptions. Gen Y-ers might appreciate a lifestyle class or information on managing their lives inside and outside the work environment.

Managers must also make an effort to accommodate diverse learning styles. Baby Boomers often favor traditional and static training methods like handbooks and Power Point presentations. On the other hand, younger workers are accustomed towards interactive and technology-based forms of learning that they can complete individually.

Another accommodation is to use multiple communication techniques to be sure to reach all generations. Boomers often prefer to communicate in person or by phone. On the other hand, Millennials are more accustomed to emailing, texting or sending instant messages.

Lastly, managers should avoid confusing generational traits with character issues like laziness, immaturity, or intractability. Whereas Boomers may believe a 60-plus hour work week as a precondition to being successful, hard-working Millennials often prefer a more balanced lifestyle that includes reasonable working hours with sporadic bouts of overtime. Millennials may also voluntarily choose to make up work time in unstructured settings like working at a coffee shop on weekends.

Multigenerational workplaces will be the norm in the foreseeable future. Consequently it makes sense for companies and management to take the time to adapt their management styles and environment to this trend, so that generational frictions do not hold them back.

Fareed Kaisani is a JD/MBA student at Georgia State University and a law clerk at KPPB Law, graduating in May 2014. Fareed’s studies concentrate on commercial litigation, bankruptcy, and corporate law.

Business Insights is hosted by the Law Firm of Kumar, Prabhu, Patel & Banerjee, LLC.
Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or other professional advice.

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