Six strategies to unleash the potential of a multi-generational workforce

Every contemporary workplace features a degree of diversity.  Some more than others. One of the most universal diversity attributes shared by workplaces today is that of having multiple generations of employees collaborating, hot desking and team-building together.

In 2019, it is highly likely that at least four generations will be working together in any corporate environment. There are the Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964), Generation X (born between 1965-1979), Generation Y (born between 1980-1994) and Generation Z (born between 1995-2015). There is every chance a workplace today will include team members who range from 24 to 55 years of age.

These generational differences can bring material implications for managers. And as many opportunities as challenges.

Challenges of a multi-generational workforce

Perhaps unsurprisingly, research into the generations reveals some stark differences between each group. For example, the 2017 Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) NextGen survey showed the Millenial generation value workplace flexibility, work/life balance and the opportunity for international assignments over monetary rewards.

Gen X and Millenials share a passion for personal development, with a preference for computer-based training and other independent learning mediums. While the Boomers opt for classroom oriented, or paper-based training techniques.

A study by the WFMC show Gen X care less about professional advancement than about work/life balance. In contrast, Millenials believe that, because technology enables them to work anytime and anywhere that they should be evaluated on work output, versus how, when or where they got it done.

Aside from espousing differing values and perspectives on a range of topics, multigenerational workforces are also subject to some sweeping stereotypes. More experienced generations may be perceived as being old-fashioned, stuck in their ways or unable to learn new ways of doing things. Younger generations may be seen as not thinking things through, overly entitled and too enthusiastic to challenge processes and norms which they may not fully understand.

So how do organisations successfully integrate multi-generational diversity within a workplace?

The commonality across all every generation

Fortunately, in 2019, this is not a new challenge for HR and team leaders. The answer lies not in trying to standardise the differences, but in embracing the differences.

Encouragingly, in a survey by the Harvard Business Review, every generation shared one big commonality. That is, they all want to be engaged in meaningful work and have a good manager coach them and help them achieve their career goals.

In other words, no matter what a person’s age, just about everyone wants to do solid work and have a supportive boss.

Strategies to manage a multi-generational workforce

Building on that common driver for each generation to do meaningful work and have a good manager, tapping into the powerful diversity of a multi-generational workforce isn’t as difficult as it might first appear. To engage all generational groups, here are some strategies to consider:

  1. avoid labels. Avoid language which supports age-based stereotyping, including generational labels themselves! Focus instead on the experience and skills each person brings to the team and the goals that need to be achieved.
  2. individually, identify what motivates each person and what defines their measurement of success. Some employees are motivated by money and career progression, whilst others value flexible working arrangements. Yet others again will respond to recognition or acknowledgement for their contributions to the team’s achievements. This will vary from person-to-person, regardless of their generation.
  3. rotate leadership roles based using a “best person for the job” methodology. For example, a tender pitch might best be led by a team member with extensive client relationship experience. In contrast, evolving a digital strategy may be accelerated with leadership by a digital native.
  4. create a reverse-mentor program where skills can be shared across generational team members by representatives from each generation. This will help build relationships and affirm to the team that every generation can learn something from the generations around them.
  5. tap into the enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit of younger generations to engender a culture of innovation. Leverage the experience of older generations to help younger generations navigate the risks, costs and challenges around implementing their ideas.
  6. deliver benefits for all. Although research suggests younger generations value work flexibility, growing numbers of Boomers and Gen X employees are seeking the same flexibility. Don’t assume particular benefits stereotypically aligned to one generation aren’t valued by members of other generations.

Unleashing the potential of multi-generational teams

There is no doubt diversity in opinions, perspectives and life experience enriches an organisation’s ability to solve problems, improve efficiencies and meet business goals. When different generations are supported to work in harmony across an organisation enormous reserves of creativity, efficiency and beneficial transformation can be unleashed.

Multi-generational teams have the opportunity to take the lessons from the past and stay open-minded about the future. And the experience and creativity to stabilise an organisation through any transition periods necessary to transform the business of yesterday into the business of tomorrow.

Managers who see through generational stereotypes and who focus on the individual drivers for the people in their teams, regardless of their generation, are well placed to create meaningful work for their team. And, therefore, a bright future for their organisation. It is not only each generation that contributes to this path, it is every generation working together.

Get in touch to explore more around how Morgan Young can help with your talent management strategies to create a multi-generational workforce.