The words “workplace diversity” often conjure up images of peoples of all cultures, religious affiliations, ethnicities, and countries of origin working together in relative harmony.
Yet, diversity in our modern workplace encompasses another, very important difference—the typical work environment includes a wider age gap among employees than ever before.
With many young people entering the workforce even as Baby Boomers remain on board until well into their golden years, it’s no wonder some companies find it challenging to manage generational differences.
And it’s not because any generation is better than another, either—to the contrary. The fact is, rapid technological advances have influenced the values, communication, and work styles of all workers, but they’ve have a drastic impact on the younger generations. The way work is conducted today is much different from the way it was just twenty years ago. That’s one reason multi-generational teams pose a challenge at work.
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The uniqueness of multiple generations of workers
Much has been written about generational differences, especially about how the different generations view work. While some of what’s been written plays to stereotypes, there are some interesting trends that experts say can make it difficult to manage people of different generations.
For example, older workers may view younger workers as hard to communicate with because they generally prefer texting and chatting online as opposed to face-to-face conversations. Younger workers may become annoyed by older workers who aren’t as technologically savvy, or they may feel disrespected when their ideas aren’t taken as seriously as they’d like. It’s important for managers to be mindful of these potential sources of conflict as they create teams and assign projects.
How to effectively manage more than one generation of employees
Effectively managing the generations is possible, and it doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are some ways to manage cross-generational employees to maintain a positive work environment for all.
Acknowledge any generational differences and talk about them. The fastest way to reduce tensions in the workplace is to talk about them, openly and in a non-threatening way. Communicate around topics pertaining to each generations’ value and how to improve projects and tasks collectively. Enforce the value of respect at all times. Let people share their ideas in an open forum at the office. Schedule regular team meetings, giving each person equal opportunity to speak and be heard.
Increase knowledge sharing across generations. Older workers have an incredible amount of knowledge to share with their younger counterparts. Encourage sharing through mentoring programs that match up information-hungry younger workers with older workers open to sharing. But a word of caution. Make sure your mentors understand the value of teaching versus telling. If the younger workers feel “talked down to,” the program may backfire.
Design compensation and benefits programs that meet the needs of multi-generational teams. One of the things that can break down a multi-generational team faster than a NASCAR pit team changes tires is when a seasoned employee gets wind that a less experienced colleague is making more money. This is never a good situation and can cause a great deal of resentment and conflict that could even lead to the wrong kind of turnover.
Establish a compensation and benefits program that’s equitable and fair for all employees, based on skill sets and years of service. Adjust all wages as the market changes.
Teach technology to all employees so they can work well together. If you want all employees working together on the same page, then it’s helpful if everyone uses the same technology. Set up a formal on-boarding program to train all employees the same way. Then offer team training of new technology as it’s implemented. Ask all employees to provide feedback and ideas for making the technology better, and encourage everyone to use the tools available through management communication.
Finally, don’t hesitate to seek help when you need it. A workforce development consultant can assist you to evaluate ways to get the most from your multi-generational team if you get stuck.