A “multigenerational workforce” is a workforce that contains members from different generations or ages. This can be beneficial in many ways, including fostering ideas, innovation and creativity as different age groups bring new perspectives to the table. However, there can be issues too – mainly around communication and assumptions.
Generations in the workplace
I would just like to caveat the below with a word of caution around treating everyone with the same broad-brush approach. These “generations” have been coined by business psychologists and whilst there are generational similarities, there are often very large differences between individuals within the same group too. The below may sometimes feel an overgeneralisation. However, as always, knowing your own team is key. Below are some areas to consider when you a leading a multi-generational workforce.
What do we mean by “generation” and how can they be defined?
Baby boomers – born between 1946 and 1964.
Though many baby boomers are approaching retirement age, we’re seeing that many choose to remain in the workforce. Described as self-assured, goal-oriented, and disciplined.
Generation X – born between 1965 and 1980.
This generation straddles both the digital and non-digital world and understands the importance of both. Described as direct, adaptable, and independent.
Generation Y (“Millennials”) – born between 1981 and 1996.
The first generation to be “digital natives”, grew up with technology as it was rapidly evolving. Crave recognition, validation, and reassurance. This generation is hard working but struggles with a sense of financial uncertainty and looks for a sense of achievement to perform their best.
Generation Z – born between 1997 and 2010.
This group is typically the youngest group in the workforce and has never known a life without tech. Known for being the most diverse, open-minded, and technologically savvy generation. Their biggest motivator is self-improvement and making a mission-driven impact.
Generation Alpha – born 2011 onwards.
Obviously not in the workforce yet, but they will be soon.
In reality, what we value as individuals is often influenced by events completely out of our control, dictated by our experiences at the beginnings of our lives and our careers. Each generation entered the workforce under certain conditions, which ultimately helped to shape our sense of purpose, our preferences, and our drivers for success.
As Gen Z is entering the workforce in large numbers and Gen Alpha is on its way, a 4 or 5 tier multigenerational workforce is becoming a reality for many teams. Therefore, in addition to reaping the benefits, managers must be prepared to overcome the challenges of managing multiple generations in the workplace.
Benefits of a multigenerational workforce
Multigenerational workers bring different skills, knowledge, and experiences to the workplace main benefits being:
Creative outlook on problems
Multigenerational workers often have different perspectives on problems. They are more likely to see the same situation in different lights, bringing varied views and solutions to the table.
Stability and adaptability
The younger generations are often defined as more adaptable. They have a more comprehensive range of experiences and education, which gives them an edge in learning new things quickly, particularly technology. But the older generations may bring the stability of learned experience and a tried-and-tested approach.
Wider problem-solving skills
Multigenerational teams are better at problem-solving. They have a broader range of knowledge and experiences, enabling them to think outside the box and look for solutions that others might not see.
Covering all skillsets
Employers can tap into the different strengths of workers from different generations and cover all skillsets and gaps within their team. Take business development as an example. A baby boomer or Gen X-er might be best at a face-to-face networking event, but a Gen Y might be more engaged reaching out online or creating a social media campaign.
Workers from different generations can share their experiences and learn from each other. They can work together to find solutions to problems and develop new strategies for the future. This helps teams operate more effectively and makes them better equipped to face challenges head-on.
So, what are the differences between generations?
The key difference between all these generations are the different methods of communication they use. Where the baby boomers had to rely on face-to-face relationships and are as a result more “engaged” in their real-life communities, the younger generations grew up in the world of social media and create their communities online instead.
These differences can lead to some animosity between the groups in the workplace. It can be really frustrating for older generations if they’re used to asking someone a question in person, when younger generations prefer to just send a message, perhaps via Teams or email. As a result, your workforce should be encouraged to use a variety of communication methods and adapt to the ones they aren’t used to.
Another challenge employers face when using the multigenerational workforce is that different generations may have different priorities. For example, employees from older generations might be more focused on career development, while workers from younger generations might be more focused on experiences and embracing new technologies or skillsets. Younger workers also typically might expect more flexible work hours and a higher level of autonomy in their jobs.
How can managers bring different generational groups together?
When managing multiple generations in the workforce, it’s essential to understand their strengths and weaknesses clearly. To do this, managers need to understand their employees’ generational backgrounds and what type of work culture is best suited for them.
The key to overcoming these differences is working together, considering everyone’s strengths and considering that the younger ones can teach the older generations something and the older ones can teach the younger ones too.
Managers can help employees feel comfortable and supported in the workplace by considering these steps.
Mentoring up and down the generations
Historically it’s usually the older person holding the position of being a mentor. So, for example, in a workplace an older person might take a young newbie under their wing in order to teach them what they know and give them a leg up in the organisation. But in an age where people are growing up with tech that older generations are going to have to use, consider having some of the younger generations lead on technological advances such as software implementation or adaption for example.
Recognise the differences
When employees from different generations start working together, it’s important to be aware of the differences in their work styles and expectations. Talk to your teams, ask how the individual team members may like to communicate, or where their strengths lie. Then allocate roles accordingly.
Consider flexible working solutions to meet both needs
Offering flexible hours or hybrid working options allow individuals to find the work style that best suits their needs. For some, this could help accommodate young families for example starting after the school run, while for others, this could help them ease into retirement. Providing opportunities for flexibility and personal development is an inexpensive way to meet a variety of employee needs. The key is to listen to your direct reports and find creative ways to meet their unique needs.
Offer a package of benefits to choose from
Employees at different stages of their lives may value different benefits, and providing a static one-size-fits all package may truly not fit anyone’s needs. Why not look at a package of benefits and allow people to choose which works for them. Consider where your employees are in their lives and what their needs are. Younger people, for instance, may not have many outside obligations; workwise, they are motivated by new experiences and opportunities. Employees in their 30s and 40s, on the other hand, often have children and mortgages and need flexibility as well as competitive salaries and advancement. Workers at the end of their careers may well not be as interested in progression, but they do want interesting work and work-life balance.
Encouraging collaboration from different generations can be tricky, but managers need to find common ground where both parties can work together. One way to do this is by providing employees with opportunities to share their thoughts and ideas. For younger workers, this may mean giving them a chance to speak on behalf of the team. Older workers may want the opportunity to mentor newer members of staff. Cross-generational working groups work well, setting up committees to tackle various elements of a firms culture or process, and make sure all generations and seniorities are represented.
Have conversations about expectations
Conduct regular human resources surveys to get a pulse on your employees’ demographics and needs. We do these once every 6 months at Eventus, and you can cover a variety of topics such as motivation, achievement, rewards and benefits.
Managing a multigenerational workforce can be a challenge but also an excellent opportunity for teams to widen out their scope of experience, skills and strengths. By understanding the different generations and the benefits of having a multigenerational workforce, you can create a positive environment for everyone involved. However, to make a multigenerational workforce run smoothly, there are a few key things that managers need to take into account, which we have listed in this blog. As ever, this is only a wide-ranging guide, and you should take the time to get to know the individuals within your own team and learn what motivates them personally.
Written by Amy Watson, director and legal recruitment specialist at the Eventus Recruitment Group.