These days, workplaces can include staff that span five generations, making it more important than ever for business leaders to properly manage generational differences.
In many ways, this spread of age and experience is a good thing. It delivers a mixture of attitudes and approaches to all aspects of the job, as well as providing a multitude of ideas and opinions. Indeed, 83% of global executives say multigenerational workforces are key to growth.
But they’re also susceptible to misunderstandings and conflict if not managed correctly.
Different generations in the modern workplace
While it’s never a good idea to fall into using stereotypes, there are some broad characteristics which can be attributed to each generation:
Traditionalists (Aged 74+): Typically loyal and value hard work. While many in this generation see work as a duty, some do so for the opportunity to keep active, with others seeking monetary compensation. Institutional or industry knowledge is often a plus point for those in this generation, but some are reticent about the introduction of technology or new ways of working.
Baby Boomers (Aged 57 – 76): Usually place a high value on work-life balance. Many own their homes and are financially secure. They often display high levels of confidence, and many are comfortable in traditional business settings or when meeting new people. They may prefer face-to-face communication over emails and instant messaging.
Generation X (Aged 42 – 56): Typified by independence and a strong work ethic, many in Gen X were among the first generation to be raised by two working parents. They typically have a reasonable grasp of technology and are comfortable with adapting to new ways of doing things.
Millennials (Aged 26 – 41): The first ‘digital generation’. Millennials were introduced to technology from a young age, and most are comfortable with it. As the first generation to enter a workplace that was beginning to adapt to digital technology, they tend to value flexibility and autonomy over career advancement.
Generation Z (Aged 25 and under): Most in Gen Z have only ever known a world of digitization and technology. Tech is simply part of their lives in and outside of work. They often seek employment with brands they support or who align with their values. Many manage large parts of their life through apps.
One thing that unites all generations is an understanding of change in the workplace. Whether it’s a traditionalist who grew up in the immediate aftermath of a world war or Gen Zers who were affected by the pandemic, they have a shared history of adapting to meet new challenges. But cliques can form in the workplace based on age – and these are not helpful. Likewise, older generations tend to be more reluctant to adopt new ways of working. Both of these issues can cause disagreements in the team, miscommunication or a feeling of isolation if allowed to fester.
How to manage cross-generational diversity in the workplace
Managers and supervisors need to be aware of the broad characteristics laid out above. But it’s important not to pigeonhole team members based purely on their age. For example, there are traditionalists who have fully embraced the digital revolution, while some in Gen X didn’t grow up with tech and remain wary of it.
Therefore, it’s vital that each individual is treated as such. Speak to them. Talk about their goals and get an understanding of what makes them tick. This will enable you to adapt your approach to a person rather than treating everybody of the same age as if they are the same.
Away days and team building exercises that allow people to tackle non-work-related tasks can be hugely beneficial in managing generational diversity. Apart from getting to know one another, colleagues can see what each other can offer in what is essentially a ‘sterile’ environment where it’s ok to make mistakes.
Age-diverse project teams are a great way of introducing the skills and respect learned in team building activities into the workplace. Of course, a mix of skills and abilities must be considered when selecting project teams, but by also considering the ages of those involved, you can help instil those differences in lived experiences that ensure a wide range of ideas and opinions.
Strong company values can help coordinate a joined-up approach across all generations which can help unify the team.
But nothing is an adequate substitute for teaching your leaders techniques for managing generational diversity. While away days and one-two-ones are ‘events’ that can help with this, coaching will equip them with the tools to make managing people of all different ages just part of the day-to-day role.
For example, when it comes to delivering training to such a diverse workforce, managers must understand how to ensure it is impactful for all. This can require using multiple channels to ensure everybody comes away from the training better informed and more equipped to carry out their role.
It’s also important to recognise that the skills your leaders gain when they’re coached on ways of managing multiple generations are transferable. While there are specific techniques relevant to multigenerational workforces, the principle of staff integration and inclusivity is crucial in all aspects of the company. The ability to identify potential issues around diversity and inclusivity – and know how to handle them sensitively and professionally has a positive impact across the organisation.
At Richmond we work alongside care providers to create bespoke training packages that address the needs of their business. Working with our clients, we identify and deliver training and coaching that makes a real difference.