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How to Manage a Multigenerational Team

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In today’s business environment, we find generational diversity management at its most challenging. In any given department, you will discover a strong mix of Boomers, Gen X’ers, and Gen Y’ers, with some long-lived members of the Traditional Generation still working their hearts out. Managing this fusion of ages, values, and viewpoints is an increasingly difficult task.

The four generations currently making up today’s workforce can each be uniquely defined by their values and beliefs. The dwindling numbers of Traditional Generation workers (born between 1922 and 1945) have a tendency to believe in conformity and rules, are company – loyal and detail-oriented, value respect, have an aversion to conflict, and prefer hierarchical organizational structures. Baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) , on the other hand, identify themselves deeply through their careers and are driven to work long hours at the office (often late at night and over weekends), live to find solutions to problems, and love to be in charge. Status means everything. Multitasking is the keyword for Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980). As a general rule, they place a very high priority on productivity and high-quality results, while simultaneously focusing on maintaining a work-life balance. Being both technically savvy and independent, they tend to see themselves as free agents and marketable commodities. Last, but not least, Generation Y (born between 1981 and 1995) believes in effecting change and making an impact. Since they are expressing themselves rather than defining themselves through work, they often have an active involvement in their company’s growth and insist on flexibility and a relaxed work environment where everyone is considered valuable and of equal status. With such diverse generations, belief systems, and values all at work within the same business environment, the challenge is in finding ways to avoid communication issues, confusion, and conflict in the workplace.

How do thriving companies handle this concern? To find the answer to that question, we need to identify and take into account the potential problems for an organization when people from different generations fail to communicate effectively. I once had an executive tell me he ''hates young people,'' so he simply doesn’t hire them. What a waste — he misses out on fresh ideas, new ways of looking at things, opportunities to get a firsthand view of what that market would buy and how, and new ways of running the company. Companies (and people) who don’t consistently look for new ways of doing things (even if the current way is working) will find themselves losing market share and wondering why.

The Traditional Generation is most commonly at the point of retirement by now, and as seasoned employees, members of this generation have much to teach the newer generations. However, traditionalists have a tendency not to question or challenge authority or the status quo. While this certainly will not bother the Boomer in a position of higher status, it is likely to cause disrespect and resentment among the Gen X’ers and Gen Y’ers who have been taught to speak their minds. When this influences them to fail to listen to their traditionalist peers, they will miss valuable information and guidance.

Baby boomers grew up with a Puritan work ethic and believed they would be rewarded for working hard and constantly. This means that they are very likely to have little tolerance for Gen Y employees whose values, needs, and beliefs are vastly different from their own. If you have a manager from the Baby Boomer generation managing Gen Y’ers, then it’s imperative to find a way for your manager to understand how to use these folks skilfully. The manager will need to be able to see what the Gen Y’ers have to offer and remind them that ultimately it’s performance, not time, that determines success.

Gen X’ers are perhaps the most difficult and, at the same time, the easiest to manage. They are past the point (usually) of believing they know it all, and have seen the value of others’ knowledge and experience. Yet they are getting married, starting families, buying homes, and involved in many extracurricular activities that take their time, energy, and focus. Recognizing this will help you communicate your needs, and help offer them some flexibility to manage the various parts of their lives.

Gen Y’ers (and sometimes Gen X’ers) are of the mindset that they know more than other generations, and that their ideas should undoubtedly be not only considered, but used. They often have little patience for the baby boomers, seeing them as ''old farts'' with old ideas, stuck in the old way of doing things. It’s important to help them see that the Boomer generation has a great deal to offer not only the company, but the Gen Y’er as well. There is much to be said for experience and paying your dues, even getting beat up a bit, in the business world, and that experience can’t be replaced by anything except, well experience. The Gen Y’ers need to recognize that they have something to learn from this group, and to respect where they’ve come from and where they are now.

Perhaps the easiest way to pinpoint the differences between the generations is to understand the differences in feedback communication needs. Traditionalists aren’t looking for wild applause but appreciate a subtle acknowledgement that they have made a difference. Boomers are often giving feedback to others but seldom receiving any, especially positive feedback. Gen X’ers need constant positive feedback to let them know they’re on the right track. Gen Y’ers, on the other hand, are used to frequent praise and may mistake silence for disapproval. They need to know what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong.

When we fail to communicate properly with the generations, the fallout can cause extensive damage to the internal community, the culture, and the productivity of a company. This will impact turnover rates, increase tangible costs (i.e., recruitment, hiring, training, retention), cause morale to plummet, lead to frequent grievances and complaints, and affect perceptions of fairness and equity.

How do you get these generation groups to play well together? There truly isn’t one right answer, but there is a key strategy that can make all the difference. Model the behavior you want others to have. If you asked each group for their opinions, ideas, and thoughts (in a room or forum where others are present and listening), it becomes obvious that each person and group has something unique to offer the company. Encourage each group to ask questions of one another. Request input on what motivates them, how they see the world, and what they can learn from each other.

Following this very simple strategy will allow you to build a cooperative workplace that houses the different generations very comfortably. Your business environment will become one that epitomizes flexibility, highlights respectful relationships, and focuses on retaining talented employees of all generations. A win-win situation for all.

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 beliefs  business environments  findings  Boomers  careers  details  organizational structures  know it all  Generation Y  potential

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