The concept of there being multiple generations working side by side in the workplace isn’t anything new. It’s always been that way ever since the ancient farmer brought his son out to the fields to teach him how to harvest their food. However, a good case can be made for the fact that we’ve never had a more diverse group of generations working in the same space together than we do right now.
If you’re a business owner or a manager who is trying to accommodate and communicate with two, three, or even four generations at the same time, here are some suggestions for how to give everyone a fair shake as you go about coordinating activities and working together on a daily basis.
The Generational Differences of the Modern Workplace
Much of the diversity that can be seen in the modern workplace can be directly attributed to the technological age that we live in. While ancient farmer Joe and his son may have had identical career arcs a thousand years ago, the four generations currently occupying the workforce each have dramatically different stories.
Baby Boomers grew up in an industrial, post-World War II world where microwaves were incredible earth-shaking tools and businesses still stuck to long-held rules and guidelines.
Generation X followed in their wake as ground-breaking technology like computers and the fledgling internet began to have an early effect on how businesses worked.
Millennials came next, threading their way through a corporate landscape that was reacting to things like the smartphone, social media, and a Great Recession, to boot.
Finally, there’s Generation Z, a group of digital natives that are just starting to come into their own. They know no life outside of the internet, and they are already championing causes like corporate social responsibility and remote work.
This multi-generational workplace amalgamation has run circles around many managers who have struggled to accommodate such a historically unique mixture of beliefs and experiences. If you can relate to this struggle, here are some suggestions for ways to accommodate all four of these generations and still manage to meet those quotas, make your deadlines, and generally get your work done on a daily basis.
Study Everyone’s Values
It all starts with understanding. More often than not, discomfort and hostility arise from the fact that the parties in conflict simply misunderstand one another. As a manager, it’s important that you take the time to actually, genuinely understand what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a Baby Bommer, a Millennial, and so on.
What makes each group tick? What do they prioritize? What do they value? For instance, Generation Z may be technically savvy, but did you know that over half of Gen Zers prefer to have face-to-face communication?
If you take the time to understand the motivations, beliefs, and experiences of your workforce, you’ll be able to serve as a communicator and mediator as you oversee your staff’s daily interactions.
Active listening is a critical leadership skill, regardless of the situation. When it comes to the multi-generational question, though, it’s absolutely imperative.
If your employees feel genuinely heard by you and you are able to reflect empathetic understanding back at them, it will open up communication channels. Particularly when you’re mediating disagreements or trying to communicate inter-organizational changes, take the time to hear your employees, listen to their feedback, and strive to understand what each person is going through.
Is a Baby Boomer uncomfortable with a shift to remote work? Is a Millennial feeling upset that they have to report to work even though their job can be done remotely? Take the time to hear each person from their own generation’s perspective.
Look for Connection Points
As a boss, it’s always helpful to know where your staff intersects. Where do their beliefs line up? Where do their experiences relate? For instance, while Generation Z was already highlighted for their devotion to creating social purpose companies, it’s a cause that many Millennials also care about and genuinely embrace.
What about the fact that Millennials crave feedback and mentorship opportunities and Baby Boomers prefer less feedback? While these may sound diametrically opposed, the two generations can be teamed up, the one as a mentor and the other as a disciple, in order to accommodate the preferences of both groups.
Remember to Look to the Future
Finally, always remember that no matter who you’re talking to, everyone is going to be here when tomorrow rolls around. Whether you’re talking about a Baby Boomer preparing for retirement, a Gen Xer trying to step into a leadership capacity, a Millennial striving to buy their first house, or a Gen Zer getting comfortable at their next job, every generation is interested in helping to create a brighter future for both themselves and those around them.
This is reinforced by the fact that, regardless of the manmade generational grouping assigned to a particular individual, everyone is connected simply through the fact that we are all human. As a manager, you can take advantage of this connection by focusing your team’s efforts on building towards a happy, healthy world to bestow on the fifth-generation that will follow — and the sixth and seventh generations after that and so on.
After all, building a better world is a rallying cry that everyone can get behind together.