The 10-minute guide to managing multi-generational workforces (part 1: The first 5 minutes)

Let’s face it. The workforce has become a melting pot. And no, I’m not talking about diversity, which quite frankly, many companies still struggle with how to leverage such a valuable concept. I’m referring to the organic, unexpected convergence of three (and sometimes even four) distinct generations coexisting in every company out there. This confluence of starkly different generations — with even more starkly different values — has created mayhem, chaos, anarchy that your average middle manager does not seem to be able to cope with.

Want to know the secret to managing these different generations? It’s about getting to understand their value systems.

In 10 minutes or less, I will help you get in their minds and gain tactical knowledge on how to engage and manage them (unless you are an awfully slow reader, and in that case, I make no guarantees).

The context: How did we get here?

Boomers were supposed to be leaving the work force by now. But the financial collapse in 2008 and continuing struggle of a weakened economy ruined their plans. This means many Baby Boomers (born between 1943 and 1961), are holding off on retirement. They now share the workplace with Generation X (born between 1962 and 1980) and Generation Y, or the Millennials (born between 1981 and 2000). Historically, these generations have “changed” faster lately, given advances in technology, global political and economic forces, and even how we relate as humans.

Why is it a problem? Can’t we all just get along?

Sure we can try. But the reality is folks from these three generations exhibit distinct expectations about work and the workplace. To improve employee engagement, managers need to become acquainted with these differences. It’s critical not to mistake the traits of individual workers, such as poor temper control or a tendency to procrastinate, with broad generational characteristics. While refusing to adhere to stereotypes, supervisors must also take care not to disadvantage older workers, even inadvertently, or risk retention problems and legal headaches.

The key is being effective at addressing and taking advantage of each generation’s different values. They all have their advantages. Managers and supervisors need special training first, to recognize generational differences and second, to know how to adapt and negotiate. It falls upon managers to lead the way and encourage staff members to respect their colleagues despite generational differences.

Profiles in generational differences

A brief profile of each cohort will clarify the differences between them.

Boomers: Loyalty. Perseverance. Authority.

Born from 1943 through 1961, Baby Boomers often devote long hours at the office, including evenings and weekends. They build their careers over the long term and tend to be more loyal to their employers. Their personal identity derives from their careers. They are committed to doing a quality job. They do not quit during difficult work situations and look for solutions to problems. They like being in charge and having their authority respected.

Gen Xers: Free Agency. Multitaskers. Entrepreneurial.

Members of Generation X, born between 1962 and 1980, may prefer high-quality end results to quantity. They set and meet goals and are productive. They can multi-task and like flexible hours and job-sharing. They seek work-life balance and, being independent, regard themselves and their skills as free agents and marketable commodities. Comfortable with authority, but they are not impressed by titles. They challenge the status quo and love to work on disruptive concepts and ideas. The age of Internet entrepreneurs was mostly led by Gen Xers. They value ethnic diversity.

Millenials: Self-Expression. Feedback driven. Joy.

The Millennials, or Generation Y, were born from 1981 through 2000, and aspire to change things up and make an impact. They define themselves through self-expression rather than their careers or work. They multitask constantly and like to organize and become involved in causes and events. They gravitate to teams and prefer a relaxed, informal work environment. They tend to want everything right away, demanding on-the job-training and immediate feedback. They don’t think about work/life balance as a goal, as their work and their personal life are intertwined, not separate. Although they are willing to put in long hours on projects or goals that ignite their passions, they are often aware of whether such increase in workload is impacting their lifestyle in the long term. They look to find joy in their work and have no problem job-hopping until they find it.

Come back in a few days to read part 2 of “The 10-minute guide to managing multi-generational workforces” where I offer tips for managing these different cohorts.

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