Many companies are struggling with the challenge of managing a more diverse workforce. This is particularly apparent in the widening generation gap. With more generations working alongside each other than ever before, learning how to work together has become crucial to success.
The problem is that each age group has different values, attitudes, and expectations. Courtesy of my own observations, and that of Joanne Sujansky, founder of the business consulting firm The Key Group, here are some suggestions on how managers and supervisors can motivate a multi-generational workforce.
(It should be pointed out that these recommendations are generalizations and not likely to be true in all cases. For instance, like a Millennial, I think rigid starting times are dumb. The dates listed are also used as a guide, and may not reflect your definition of a specific generation.)
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
* Allow Boomers to participate in associations and conferences that keep them professionally connected to their peers. Working together on professional projects motivates most Boomers.
* Offer long-term compensation. Because they’re closer to retirement age than younger workers, Baby Boomers are often more interested in perks such as profit sharing, 401ks, and health care benefits, including long-term care. I can personally attest to this one, but if your workforce mainly consists of younger people, don’t expect them to be interested. They would much rather learn how to address day-to-day financial concerns.
Gen Xers (1965-1976)
* Give work/life issues more than lip service. Attracting and retaining Gen Xers goes beyond tossing a few family-friendly and flexible work benefits their way. While many companies say they offer flexible schedules, the reality is that it often extends only to special circumstances and certain types of work. Also, organizations that want to recruit talented workers need to focus on performance rather than time clocks.
* Offer plenty of opportunities for collaboration and teamwork. This is the generation that “fuels their fire” through teamwork. Are there sufficient opportunities for teamwork in your organization? If not, what could be added to promote better teamwork?
Gen Yers (also known as Millennials, 1977 – 1980s)
* Give them flexibility in when and where work is done. Gen Yers resist what they see as rigid workday starting times. They do not understand why coming to work 15 minutes late is irresponsible behavior. If you can provide technology that allows them to work at home one or two days a week, so much the better! Such examples can be highly practical. At a publishing firm where I used to work, one of the salesmen, who lived about an hour away, wanted to keep a 7-4 schedule instead of the usual 8-5 because it would have been a much better fit with his parenting responsibilities. He was told this was not acceptable. Needless to say it was not long before he quit even though he was a good salesman. Not smart!
* Offer professional development opportunities. Gen Yers think about career advancement a lot, and so should their managers. Since Gen Yers may not yet have families, traditional benefits are often not as important as enabling them to develop new skills and offering opportunities for advancement. Another retention tool is to help talented Gen Yers pay off student loans or offer tuition reimbursement. I am not aware of any firms that are actually doing that, but with the massive debt many students are graduating with today, that might be one heckuva retention tool for a company that can afford it.
In summary, in order for a company or organization to be successful, co-existing generations in the workplace need to understand and value each other, even when perspectives and goals differ. Management plays a key role in how different generations interact together.