For the first time in history, four generations share common territory in the workplace. But this is more than a celebratory phenomenon calling attention to longer and more vital life spans and opportunities for knowledge-sharing. Generational overload can lead to disaster where there is room for great collaborative success.
For the last few decades communities around the country have been fostering an environment that celebrates diversity but often this conversation does not include generational differences.
“There are miscommunications, misunderstandings and also assumptions people make about other generations and why they are doing what they do,” Simma Lieberman, a diversity training expert, said. “These [aspects] affect how people view each other, how people work together, and how much people trust each other.”
To overcome the challenges posed by a multigenerational workplace, managers need to understand generational differences and then educate staff members on these key distinctions. Then they will be able to harness the full potential of a multigenerational workplace.
In order to successfully lead a multigenerational workforce, management needs to be well-informed of the obvious differences that exist between the groups and effectively plan for each to bring certain challenges to the work environment. Also it is important to acknowledge that no one group is correct or incorrect – instead consider that everyone has their own perspective from which they draw conclusions. This perspective is a result of the environment in which they were raised, which varied greatly during the last 80 years.
Management needs to become aware of the differences among the generations before opening a dialogue among employees. Attending a generational training seminar or reading up on generational differences is a great way to educate management on these differences. For a less academic exploration, Karl Kapp, a professor at Bloomsburg University, suggests that managers explore some of the interests that their employees enjoy in an attempt to understand their perspective in a smaller scope. He encourages boomer bosses to play video games that are popular among Gen Y employees, for example, to better understand their interests and increase the shared dialogue between the two groups.
“Understand that people like to be managed differently,” Kapp said offering some examples. “Gen Y wants a goal or an objective to reach but they do not want you to micromanage how to get there. They want their manager to be more of a strategy guide.”
By evolving your workforce to incorporate some of the desired expectations of each generation businesses are likely to become more enjoyable workplaces for everyone involved.
Expecting certain management challenges and handling them promptly can decrease the lasting negative effects they have on the workforce.
“The real problems are with communication, interaction and understanding the perspective of the other person,” Kapp told O&P Business News. “The expectation of interaction causes a lot of conflict.”
Younger generations, who have been exposed to technology far more than the older generations, often do not view face-to-face conversation as a first mode of communication. They prefer e-mail in some cases and without explicitly requesting they come talk to you directly, they may default to the latter.
Trying to address the concerns and perspectives of everyone presents the complex management challenge of trying to create an environment where everyone will want to work together and remain there.
“You have to have a lot of variety and diversity in what people do,” Lieberman said. “You have to have ways that if they can not be promoted vertically that they can change jobs laterally.”
This addresses Generation Ys in that they will not become bored with a task if they have chances to switch their duties. Also, this variety will help Baby Boomers to feel less threatened by a younger workforce.
As challenges surface, keep in mind that there is more than one right way to accomplish a said task and aim to encourage a collaborative work environment.
“Do not wait for the problem to happen and then try to clean it up,” Ann Fishman, president of Generational Targeted Marketing, warned. “You try to avoid it before it ever starts. If you start off with generational understanding then that is at least one issue that is going to be taken out of your workforce.”
Addressing the Issue
“I think diversity among the generations effects every organization and every person in an organization at every level,” Kapp told O&P Business News. “If that is not acknowledged and brought out onto the table then there’s a lot of underlying conflicts. If you surface some of these issues you can really help them see it is a generational thing.”
Once managers have a handle on the generational differences, they must open up that dialogue to include their employees.
First, with the help of an outside consultant, or as a well-educated management team, explain the generational differences to your workforce. This can either be in a lecture form or ask your staff members to participate by prompting them with questions about their youth and what major events or innovations were paramount to their upbringing. Ask how these events play a part in the way they view the world today, Lieberman suggested.
Allow your staff members to ask each other questions and determine what stereotypes exist and how to break them down.
“While you are doing it, you are really learning a lot about each other and then you are learning better ways of doing things,” Lieberman said.
Another suggestion presented by all sources was instituting a mentor program in your workplace. By teaming people up from different generations they will learn a lot about each other and about the job.
For example, “the younger person may be more technologically savvy so they help the older person learn technology and also get some of the work done faster and then the older person talks about their experiences and what they have seen. Then the younger person does not have to make the same [job-related] mistakes,” Lieberman said.
Maintaining an open dialogue is a vital part of keeping a multigenerational workforce moving and working together.
“Understanding generational differences, respecting those differences … and recognizing the contribution that each of these generations can make – the optimism of Gen Y; the practicality of Gen X; the experience of the Baby Boomers; the desire to pull it all together of the Silent Generation – when you put those things together in a workforce, it makes the best workforce you have ever had,” Fishman said. “You are not looking at a problem here. You are looking at your goal.”— by Jennifer Hoydicz
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