For the first time in history it’s easy to find a business where four generations are working side by side as some Traditionalists (born between 1927 – 1945), are working beyond retirement. Three generations is surely the norm.
What that means for our hyper-competitive world is that owners and managers are struggling with workplace diversity and cultural diversity. Communication problems and conflict are rising from the different work / life goals, experiences and communication styles of their employees.
But can workplace diversity be turned into a business asset?
The Questions / The Benefits:
- How can we use generational differences as a unique opportunity to drive profitability vs. let it rip us apart at the seams?
- What does ‘generational differences’ mean to product development, productivity, customer service, employee satisfaction, ROI and profits?
Understanding the differences and similarities of the generations is the first step in helping us understand the needs, motivations and expectations of our age-diverse workforce… and customer. Our diverse employees should be seen as opportunities to help each other see generational differences as chances to differentiate our business and make our company more profitable – not inconvenient limitations.
- The Traditionalists – Born between 1927 and 1945
- The Baby Boomers – Born between 1946 and 1964
- Generation X – Born between 1965 and 1980
- Generation Y (Millennial) – Born in 1981 or later
The key is to effectively address the diversity, values and expectations of each generation and to integrate these within company mission, vision, values and product / service.
Strategies For Success: Every Employee Has Something Great To Offer.
Start by helping Millennials recognize the experience of Gen Xers, Boomers and Traditionalists; and help Gen Xers, Boomers and Traditionalists recognize the team. The knowledge, skills, and workplace attitudes possessed by today’s multigenerational workforce presents significant communication opportunities.
Teamwork is an opportunity. Judging each other needs or motivations alienates us. This is the worst approach for an individual or a company as alienation promotes conflict with the person, the situation and the company… often conflict starting small but slowly builds into a large challenge.
Conflict often arises when we consider only our needs.
Questions are an opportunity. Finding and keeping valuable employees from all generations is every bit as important as finding and retaining customers. So treat your employees as customers.
Ask what they want and deliver on their needs – don’t treat everyone the same. Also, if they’re working on a project don’t expect them to read your mind or read between the lines. If you need a summary report you need to ask for it – give them a sample – and don’t blame them for what you haven’t clearly asked for.
Mentors are another opportunity. Promote mentoring between employees from different generations. Younger employees can learn from the experience of Gen Xers, Boomers and Traditionalists while they teach senior employees how to use new technology, problem solving ability, explorative nature and new point of view (like company motivation and recognition), Millennials can offer.
Motivation is an opportunity. Employees from different generations require different motivations. Not everyone wants more responsibility. Appropriately motivating employees is cost-effective for the company, helps employees stay involved and will help keep all generations engaged and committed.
Reward is another opportunity when supporting employees from multiple generations. What works for some generations (or individuals), may not work for others. For example: After working long hours to complete a challenging project a Boomer may appreciate a cash bonus and a plaque to hang in their office. A Millennial may be happier with a four-day weekend and a communication training workshop (because they are young, focused on work-life balance and professional development).
Balance (as suggested), is another opportunity. This relates to work-life balance as well as at-work balance. While fairness is critical the solution for one person may be different than another. Workplace diversity requires balance include a variable mix which includes (but is not limited to):
- Flexible work arrangements
- The opportunity to contribute
- Training / the opportunity to learn
- The opportunity to get constructive feedback
Focus on employee engagement and contribution not where or when they work (unless structured time is required like a hospital nurse). Where consistency is important don’t demand it – let the employee be part of the decision as to why, where and how consistency will look.
No matter what generations you work with, maintaining a competitive, multigenerational workforce requires you to openly explore the ideas and needs of workers. Eliminate the us vs. them perspective. If they win then I must lose is defeating and ‘old school’. Instead explore how each of you can win.
Embrace that concept that the sum is greater than its parts.
See workplace diversity, individual differences and professional development as a strength that is critical to business success.
To do this we need to learn that overall my ideas and needs are no more important than yours – yours are no more important than mine. It may be that your needs take priority at this moment of time… but my needs (which may be as simple as recognition or the opportunity to learn), must be respected and addressed.
For example: Most Millennials enjoy working on teams and are active learners. Keep them motivated and engaged by giving them special projects that will take advantage of their talents while also give them a sense of contribution and learning.
Don’t keep your talent locked up or in the dark. Ask for their input and ingenuity, ideas and concerns into your marketing strategy. Set aside time to provide honest feedback and time to work on department issues like problem solving, value setting, and options around operations. Motivate them and give them all the support and training they need to succeed.
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