We’ve all heard the phrases “young and hungry” or “older and wiser.” Each generation has defining characteristics and personality traits that lead to varying work styles. Leading a generationally diverse team has its challenges, but there can be benefits to managing a group of workers with different skills, life experiences, and points of view.
Complicating the issue is that there are currently five generations in the workforce – in what may be a first for the modern era. Before offering tips for managing a multigenerational workforce, we should quickly highlight each generation’s defining traits and values.
The Silent Generation (1928-1945) – Workers in their mid-seventies and early eighties who often hold partner, board, and advisory positions. This generation values tradition but can struggle with evolving technologies.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964) – The generation of workers in their mid-fifties to early-seventies who are approaching retirement but value hard work and often choose to stay working. Boomers are typically more goal-oriented, disciplined, and self-assured than their predecessors.
Generation X or Gen X-ers (1965-1980) – Are those workers in their forties and fifties who lack some of the defining characteristics of the Boomers behind them and Millenials ahead and, as such, are more independent and direct. They came of age before the internet and have more traditional educations.
Millennials (1980-1995) – A hard-working generation of tech-savvy employees in their early twenties to mid-thirties. Millennial workers generally crave reassurance and validation but grapple with needing a feeling of achievement to perform well. This generation also senses financial uncertainty, particularly around retirement.
Generation Z or Gen Z (1996-2015) – Perhaps the most technologically savvy and open-minded generation to join the workplace, but finds motivation in self-improvement and making a mission-driven impact.
Knowing each generation’s signature traits allows you to understand their unique habits, preferences, and behaviors. Let’s consider four strategies for leading multigenerational teams to help your direct reports succeed at your company.
1. Allow for Various Communication Methods
Whether you have employees who fall into older generations or newly-minted demographics, you will be working with people who prefer varying methods of communication. For instance, a Boomer may appreciate the value of picking up the phone and meeting in person, whereas a Gen Z employee may enjoy communicating via email and text. Allowing for and accommodating multiple means of communication will help your team overcome a common challenge today’s workforce faces.
2. Respect Boundaries
Never before has there been a broader representation of age groups at work in the modern era. While younger generations are typically more socially progressive than their predecessors, a person’s age and upbringing will impact their comfort level discussing typically taboo social issues in the workplace, such as gender roles, mental health, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
While their religion, sex, sexual orientation, and educational background will inform their point of view on these matters, people also have different tools for navigating these challenging topics. To ensure everyone’s psychological safety, respecting boundaries and not forcing people to a particular point of view is essential.
3. Avoid Stereotypes
The first step toward developing mutual respect and overcoming age bias in the workplace is to avoid generational generalizations. Each generation has its unique characteristics, but just because someone was born during a particular time does not mean they’ll demonstrate these traits or be defined by their birth year.
The first step to debunking generational stereotypes is to stop assuming someone will exhibit the overarching characteristics assigned to the age-based groups and generational constructs society has manufactured.
4. Don’t Play Favorites
Creating an open dialogue where every voice is heard and considered is the best way to ensure people of all ages can learn from each other. Fostering an “us versus them” environment is the fastest way to shut down dialogue between generational interactions.
Suppose younger employees are outspoken and lack experience, or older employees are quickly dismissive and overlook progressive points of view. In that case, it’s important to allow both voices to be heard instead of taking sides. Every generation has insights to share. By encouraging intergenerational collaborations and conversations, we bridge the generational gap and discover the strengths of our team members and ourselves.
Leaders of multigenerational teams encounter unique challenges. Still, you can successfully lead a multigenerational team by availing yourself of various means of communication, avoiding stereotypes, respecting boundaries, and not playing favorites. All that being said, if a Gen Z employee doesn’t know what a cassette tape is or refers to the nineties as the “late 1900s,” you’re allowed to have your feelings hurt.