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Managing multiple generations effectively

Michelle Hicks

Employers who want to remain employers of choice for all employees, regardless of age or career-stage, must expand their notions of ideal workers. If managers do not pay close attention to the dynamics in their organization, operating only within their comfort zone, this can lead to misperceptions and a less productive work environment.

It’s easy for managers to slip into a pattern of working closely and mentoring employees who are “just like them.” It isn’t conscious. But it happens. The result can then lead to those managers closing themselves off from the positive contributions that employees of a variety of ages bring to the workplace. Managers need to intentionally identify steps they can take so that their young employees, employees at midlife, and older employees will want to work for them and their organization.

The outcomes are obvious – you’ll be able to keep all employees more highly engaged in work and drive a desire to stay with you.

You should begin by gaining an understanding about what motivates workers of different ages to work with passion so that your organization can adopt policies and programs that enhance employee engagement, taking age into consideration.

It is often overlooked, but generational diversity is as a great a differentiator as cultural, educational and gender diversity. Understanding these differences is essential to not only bridge the generation gaps but transform the work force for 21st century global competition.

In general, everyone wants the same thing from work. Beyond a living wage, they want to be respected and have something interesting to do and an opportunity to grow. But each generation defines and approaches these goals differently. There is no such thing as an “average employee.”

Successful organizations will speak the language of what each generation values in order to target messages for motivation. For example, Traditionalists, those born between 1922 and 1945, like to hear that their experience is appreciated.

Boomers, on the other hand, those born between 1946 and 1964 are motivated more by a sense of competing.

Gen Xers, born between 1965 to 1980 want to understand the opportunities for their career. While the newest members of our work force, the Millennials, born 1981 to 1990, are eager to hear about opportunities to collaborate, especially with newer technologies.

Putting this advice into practice, let’s say your organization is about to acquire a new company. You would ‘message’ the acquisition differently to different generations to help them buy into and be excited by the opportunity. You might tell Traditionalists that you’re counting on their experience to make the acquisition a success, while letting Gen Xers know about new opportunities to learn and grow their professional skills. You would speak to what motivates each generation.

Organizations that once embraced a one-size-fits-all communication approach must shift gears to provide multiple, two-way communication opportunities. You need to embrace multiple mediums – even if it feels repetitive.

And, it is especially important that you proactively work to get the generations to work together more so they understand each other better. The boss isn’t the only person in the office who should understand and appreciate generational differences. Everyone needs to understand and appreciate them.

One strategy to get the generations to work together is to intentionally put them on teams together. This helps them understand each other’s work styles and can even succeed in helping you transfer knowledge from retiring Traditionalists and Boomers to Gen Xers and Millenials.

Remember, the old communication model doesn’t work anymore. Generational differences must be addressed in order to engage employees and there are several important reasons engagement is important. Engaged employees use less health care, take fewer sick days, are more productive and, most importantly, create stronger customer relationships.

You need your employees engaged. Don’t overlook the impact of a multigenerational work force and techniques to help you fill in the generation gaps.

Michelle Hicks is a communications consultant with Buck Consultants.

About Michelle Hicks