Multigenerational Workforce: How to Bridge the Generation Gap

Look around your workplace. There probably are a couple of co-workers who you would not engage with unless you had to, right? Are they older? Younger? Do they “just don’t get it?”

How would your workplace be different if you embraced the diversity and celebrated the strengths of its multigenerational workers? You may not see it on the surface, but you’re surrounded by a wealth of resources.

Let’s take a look at the generations that make up today’s workforce, what we can learn from each and how to work with them.

1. Veterans – Born before 1946

Characteristics:

  • Traditional
  • Conformers
  • Respect authority
  • Disciplined
  • Savers

Many people are surprised by the number of Veterans who are still in the workplace. These days, we don’t ask ages, and being 70 today is not the same as it was 20 years ago. Veterans have a lot of experience and you can learn something if you just listen. Veterans were “mentors” before mentoring was even a thing. They believe in rules, hierarchy, a chain of command, loyalty, commitment and respect.

They have respect for titles, so if you’re their manager, they will give you the respect that the position requires. They like to work, and are probably on a second or third career if they’re still in the workforce.

Ten years ago, it was believed that most all Veterans would be retired by now – and many are. But, that was before the latest economic downturn, which wreaked havoc on retirees’ nest eggs. So, with their work ethic and need for security, you’ll find more people over 70 in the workplace now than you would have a decade ago.

2. Baby Boomers – Born 1946-1964

Characteristics:

  • Competitive
  • Anti-establishment
  • Flexible
  • Hard-working
  • Believe they’ve paid their dues

Baby Boomers comprise the largest group of workers, so when they joined the workforce things were immediately competitive. For this group, it has been all about getting ahead and hard work. Boomers became the “mega consumer.” For them, bigger is better.

Boomers are good problem-solvers and can redirect quickly. They had to be: In the 1980s, when oil and gas companies laid off masses of people, the Boomers’ world changed forever. They expected to retire from one company, like their parents. They believed if they were doing a reasonably good job, their jobs were safe. But 30 years ago, they had to reinvent themselves – even going into another industry or discipline.

Boomers are competitive and they are motivated by challenge. They bring maturity and experience to the workplace. And, if you want to talk with a Boomer, do it face-to-face.

3. Generation X – Born 1965-1980

Characteristics:

  • Suspicious
  • Independent
  • Techno-heads
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Self-reliant
  • Demand work/life balance

Generation X is the most independent generation in the workplace. They watched their Boomer parents in the 1980s lose their jobs and saw how it affected them and their livelihood. They also are the latchkey generation, having grown up when both parents were in the workforce. Because of these things, they are self-reliant.

Gen-Xers feel that job security falls on them, not the company, and provide for themselves. They self-develop their skills, not waiting for a company to send them to training. Their loyalty is to themselves, not to the company and they expect a work/life balance.

4. Millennials – Born 1981-2000

Characteristics:

  • Techno-addicts
  • Self-indulgent
  • Curious
  • Great at multitasking
  • 24/7 mentality
  • Collaborative
  • Expect continual learning
  • Demand flexibility
  • Social

This is the first generation in the workplace to really embrace diversity. They don’t understand why there is a diversity initiative at work. This is a great testament to this generation.

Because of their desire for inclusiveness and collaboration, the corporate ladder may give way to what is being called the “corporate lattice” – a flat organization where people will be compensated for getting better at what they do, rather than for being promoted to an advanced position.

Millennials were raised being praised for their accomplishments by parents who included them on decisions from menu choices to vacation destinations. Because of this, they have no problem voicing their opinions to higher ups. They ask questions and expect to be recognized for achievement. If you want to talk to a Millennial face-to-face, it will be at your initiative … they’d rather text or email.

Tips for managing the generations

As a manager – and even in the workplace in general – it’s important to treat each person as an individual. But, having insight into what motivates and influences each generation can help you find out what makes them tick.

Veterans

 

  • Take time to listen
  • Give clearly defined expectations
  • Show respect for their contributions
  • Allow time to grasp new technology
  • Give opportunity for input into decision-making
  • Ask them for advice
  • Provide standardized policies, procedures and templates
  • They believe if it’s not broken, don’t fix it
  • They don’t require any deep meaning from work
  • They expect to give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay


Boomers

 

  • Don’t treat them like dinosaurs
  • Show them respect, even if they are your subordinates
  • Ask for advice based on their extensive experience
  • Give them technology and educational support so they are not afraid of it, and don’t judge them for their lack of technological expertise
  • Competitive – they love work challenges
  • Find a way for them to stand out in the crowd as they have been obsessed with this due to their large peer group
  • Let them make a difference – this is a prime motivator
  • Give personal attention because face time is important to them
  • Allow for flexibility, as it has become important to Boomers
  • They’ve paid their dues throughout their career and want their current contributions recognized


Generation X

 

  • Abandon the “slacker” myth with Xers
  • Distinguish between arrogance and independence
  • Build corporate cultures that value the individual
  • Set clear deadlines for tangible end products
  • Provide them with as much information as you can
  • Treat their questions as opportunities to teach
  • Outline and define goals
  • Let them manage as much of their time as possible
  • Build constant feedback loops
  • Make feedback frequent, accurate, specific and timely


Millennials

 

  • Give clear leadership
  • Provide role models and two-way mentoring relationships
  • Challenge them. They’re looking for growth, development and continual learning more than they desire money
  • Treat their ideas respectfully
  • Be flexible! This generation works to live so they are not going to give up activities because of the job. A rigid schedule will force them to exit
  • Don’t expect them to pay their dues by putting in time. Focus on productivity and reward them for it
  • Design office spaces to allow for sharing ideas
  • Encourage them to improve on their communication skills, and define the benefits for them to do so

Finding the right balance to manage and find the talents within your workforce requires a lot of time. But, it’s worth it when you get it right – using the tools at your disposal, but also meeting each employee as an individual.

If you need help with performance management, training or workforce retention, Insperity Workforce Optimization® full-service HR can help ease your human resources burdens. Click here to learn more.