Leadership in a Multi-Generational Workplace

December 13, 2016  |   Posted by :   |   Uncategorized

Ten years ago Google was operating out of a garage, Apple was in economic peril, and the founder of Facebook was still in high school. What a difference a decade can make!

There are five generations of people living in America today including the Traditionalists (pre-1945), Baby Boomers (1945-1964), Generation X (1965-1977), Generation Y (1978-1995), and Linksters (1996 – Present).   Four generations (Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y) are currently in the workplace, and the Linkster generation will enter the workplace in ten years.

Workers born in different eras have unique attitudes and communication styleswhich can lead to conflict between employees.   Baby Boomers are competitive and think workers should pay their dues.  Gen Xers are skeptical and independent-minded.  Gen Ys enjoy teamwork, feedback and technology. Linksters (also known as Gen. 2020) like to be constantly “linked” with others via text messaging, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or some other electronic medium.

Companies must prepare to manage different needs, expectations, and attitudes of multi-generational employees so they can improve employee performance, morale and productivity. 

Be Flexible in Your Leadership Style

Turning a multi-generational workplace into a cohesive team environment is a challenging task.  A “one-size-fits-all” approach will not work because such an approach may motivate employees of one generation but be a morale-killer to employees of another generation.

Successful leaders must adopt a flexible approach in leading and motivating a multi-generational work force.   The following are some ideas for consideration:

  • Adapt your attitudes about rewards, work styles, communication preferences and motivators to match generational expectations—be open about different generations and start conversations about it.
  • Understand what makes each generation tickoffer different options to best meet the needs of a multi-generational work place.
  • Leverage the strengths of each generation—pursue and encourage a variety of perspectives and ideas. This leads to innovation.
  • Build bridges between generations—build on strengths and encourage people to become who they are rather than pushing them to conform.
  • Communicate uniquely with each generation—observe and discover ways to meet the different communication styles of your team.
  • Support the values of each generation—make a point to ask people about their individual needs, views and preferences.

The best leaders are those who can meet the needs of all employees byaccommodating the needs of individuals. In doing so, leaders can raise performance expectations and receive higher employee performance because employees are more engaged and more willing to help the organization achieve business objectives.

 Look Out for Potential Conflicts

With four generations in the workplace, there is potential for generational conflict that can undermine the ability of employees to pull together as a team and work effectively to accomplish tasks.  For example, a Baby Boomer who values paying your dues might resent the entitlement mentality of a Gen Xer eager to climb the corporate ladder.  An astute manager aware of generational differences might consider making the Baby Boomer a mentor for the eager Gen Xer.

 Culture of Commitment

Prior to the 1980s, many corporations such as IBM provided employees with “jobs for life” and layoffs were rare.   For this reason, Traditionalists and Baby Boomers tend to be intensely loyal to their employers.  In the 1980s, the era of corporate “downsizing” (i.e. layoffs) began.  Consequently, Gen Xers and Gen Ys have a natural distrust of corporations and think of themselves as corporate “free agents”.

Gen Xers and Gen Ys have no expectation or illusion that their employer will provide them with a job for life.   Their only requirement is that the corporation improves their skillset thereby making them more marketable for their next employer.   If the corporation fails to provide Gen Xs/Ys with an environment that improves their skillset, they will immediately start looking for work elsewhere.

This broad field of individuals populating the corporate world makes it a challengeto manage the human capital toward higher productivity and profits.  Recruiting is the first hurdle.  Over the long haul, retention is the highest hurdle by far.  Learning and development can provide the competitive boost that allows organizations to clear these hurdles in the race for talent and ultimately win employee commitment and retention. 

The current workforce – particularly the younger members just beginning to chart their careers – will move on quickly if they are not being challenged, valued, and developed. 

To successfully build this high performance and integrate the various generations, organizations must take three key steps:

  1. Build and promote a learning environment that will attract and retain a cross-section of individuals.
  2. Establish a strategic vision for motivating, coaching, and developing diverse employees.
  3. Create a variety of learning and development experiences that engage and empower individuals to achieve shared business objectives.

Peter Drucker, the renowned management consultant, once said: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”  There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to managing a multi-generational workforce.  Leaders must take full advantage of what each generation brings to the table to build thriving teams, increase employee engagement and achieve business goals. For more information on managing multiple generations in the workplace, please contact Amy Shannon, for a consultation. 


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