Many organizations have reached a milestone in the history of the American workforce – five generations of employees working side by side. From the Traditionalists born before 1946 to Generation Z born after 1995, this generational diversity can bring both challenges and advantages. While some might view this kind of diversity as a hindrance to growth, marketing consultant Wes Gay (Why A Multigenerational Workforce Is A Competitive Advantage) believes that a multi-generational workforce can be a distinct advantage for companies. From Gay’s perspective, the wide range of ideas and knowledge from a broad spectrum of the workforce can actually serve companies well and help employees excel in their work.
LinkedIn Talent Solutions has compiled survey results from over 7,000 talent professionals in 35 countries and interviews with experts to produce a report with recommendations on how to make the most of a multi-generational workforce (see From Gen Z to Boomers: Hiring and Retaining Multigenerational Talent). According to nine out of ten talent professionals surveyed, the wide variety of life experiences and perspectives that flow from a multi-generational workforce often make work teams more creative and productive, providing a competitive advantage over less age diverse organizations. A majority of survey respondents emphasized the key role that organizational leadership must play in helping employees overcome potential generational stereotypes and conflict by promoting mutual respect and collaboration.
According to Dean Swanson, a volunteer counselor with business mentoring organization SCORE, multi-generational hiring enriches the work environment, providing a wider range of knowledge, skills, creativity, perspectives and work styles (see SCORE: The advantages of a multigenerational workforce). He believes that a broad range of ages brings an important combination of experience and maturity along with youthful enthusiasm.
While generalizations don’t always apply to all individuals, some common strengths that are often found within each of the five generations of employees include:
Traditionalists (born before 1946) tend to respect authority, are more motivated to preserve traditions and follow rules, value teamwork and are often more task oriented.
Baby Boomers (born from 1946-1964) are often resourceful and disciplined, and typically exhibit a strong work ethic and drive to achieve goals.
Generation Xers (born from 1965-1976) tend to be self-sufficient, versatile, receptive to learning new skills, more accepting of change and comfortable with technology.
Millennials (born from 1977-1995) are known for bringing a collaborative attitude, have strong technology skills, tend to value open and honest communication and are very interested in career advancement.
Gen Edgers or Generation Z (born after 1995) tend to be self-reliant, technologically advanced and are often early adopters who exhibit less fear of failure when trying new approaches.
The rich diversity in abilities and attitudes of employees from different generations has the potential to create a more dynamic atmosphere within your business environment. A healthy mix of traditional approaches and innovative thinking can help your organization strike a balance between being stuck in outmoded strategies and veering too far out of the box.
If your organization is composed of multiple generations of workers or if you are looking to expand your hiring practices to include a broader range of ages, the LinkedIn report offers some tips to make the most of a multi-generational workforce, including:
- Don’t put anyone in a box. While understanding generational trends and traits can be helpful, it’s important to treat each person as a unique individual who may not fit into his or her generation’s ethos. Older workers typically call upon decades of experience to make more methodical and careful decisions, but a 60-something member of your team could easily be your fastest, most creative thinker.
- Seek wisdom everywhere. Consider asking employees who, beyond the boss, they seek out for advice. Certain employees may emerge as helpful counselors with specific areas of expertise that can be shared with an even larger audience (and don’t expect that only your older employees will be the best mentors).
- Promote informal interactions across generations. People tend to gravitate toward others in their own demographic. Encouraging employees to seek out conversations with other generations at conferences, networking events, or even in the cafeteria or on the train can help give all age groups new perspective.
- Create safety for all workers to share their knowledge. It’s not unusual or unfounded for senior employees, scarred by downsizing and outsourcing, to feel threatened by the younger generations. Younger workers may feel insecure about sharing advice with more experienced colleagues. It’s important to create the psychological safety for everyone to feel comfortable sharing key learnings.
Keeping channels of communication open in a multi-generational work environment can be complicated but is crucial for effective interaction and collaboration. Younger workers might be quicker to embrace tech-based communication like instant messaging. Older employees might be more likely to value face-to-face talks. Dr. Sabra Brock, Interim Dean at Touro College Graduate School of Business, has compiled a list of tips to help create a collaborative work environment when teams include people of all ages (see Tips for Communicating Across Generations in the Workplace):
Match the media to the recipient.
- Traditionalists generally prefer more formal communication, such as memos.
- Baby Boomers use email regularly, though they generally prefer in person and phone conversations.
- Generation X use email and prefer short direct messaging.
- Millennial employees prefer email, digital messaging apps and social media wall posts.
- Generation Z workers often prefer face to face interaction; when they use email or messaging, they expect a rapid response.
Use informal conversations to facilitate relationships.
- Baby Boomers prefer to talk about work.
- Gen Xers will talk about either social life or work.
- Millennials tend to choose social life.
- Try to keep in mind everyone’s preferences when starting conversations.
Use feedback wisely.
- Don’t overdo feedback with Traditionalists and Baby Boomers and try to be respectful of their experience.
- Gen Xers prefer direct communication and like to be challenged.
- Millennials generally want lots of feedback.
Practicing better communication across generations will continue to be important in today’s work environment. By stepping out of their comfort zones and exploring new channels, all employees can learn to collaborate better.
The experiences of each generation – experiences made in a specific time and place in history – shape who we are, what we value, how we value it, how we prioritize those values and how we interact with others. As a branding firm Act-On blogger points out (Four Benefits to a Multi-Generational Workplace (Or, What I Learned from My 21-Year-Old Nephew)), younger generations can bring fresh insights and energy to a group, while older generations can offer wisdom and insight that comes from rich experiences and perspective.