As another generation graduates into the workforce, it’s increasingly important for managers to understand the differing needs of their direct reports. In fact, by 2060 the age distribution in the US is predicted to be more equalized than ever.
While managing a generationally diverse team can be challenging, well-managed multigenerational teams see many benefits from the broad range of skills and experiences.
Professionals in each age demographic have their own work styles, approaches, and experiences. Communication skills, adaptability, technical skills, and cross-departmental collaboration are just a few of the areas leaders recognize differences amongst employees of different generations. However, recent studies show that at their core, these generational differences could be beneficial to the team and the organization.
We’ve compiled the following tips to help you manage a multigenerational team and improve the unique experience of each of your direct reports.
Generations that make up the workforce
Before jumping into the best practices for managing a multigenerational workforce, let’s first establish the defining characteristics of each generation.
The Silent Generation
The silent generation includes those born between 1928-1945, which puts them in their mid-seventies to early-eighties. While most of them have retired from the workforce, many are still seen as partners, board members, or hold other advisory positions. This generation typically values tradition and hard work, but often struggles to adapt to new technologies compared to younger generations.
Baby boomers were born between 1946-1964, which puts them in their mid-fifties to early-seventies. Though many baby boomers are approaching retirement age, we’re seeing that many choose to remain in the workforce. Like their predecessors, they value hard work, but are more self-assured, goal-oriented, and disciplined.
Gen X-ers were born between 1965-1980, which puts them in their forties and fifties. This generation is often overlooked compared to the more standout characteristics of its neighboring generations. As a result, they are more direct, adaptable, and independent.
Millennials were born between 1980-1995, which puts them in their early-twenties to mid-thirties. While they maintain many of the values of the previous generations, they are more tech savvy and crave recognition, validation, and reassurance. This generation is hard working, but struggles with a sense of financial uncertainty and looks for a sense of achievement to perform their best.
Gen Z has quickly become one of the most talked about generations to enter the workforce. Born between 1996-2015, they have just begun to join their predecessors in the workplace. Gen Z is known for being the most diverse, open-minded, and technologically savvy generation. Their biggest motivator is self-improvement and making a mission-driven impact.
Now that you can recognize them, consider the following seven strategies for managing multigenerational teams.
7 tips for managing multigenerational teams
1. Educate your team
Make it a priority to help your team understand both the positive effects of multigenerational workforces and common challenges that can arise. Be clear that you are aware of the challenges, but are actively looking to develop better ways of working together and rally your team around this vision.
2. Establish respect
The key to respecting and collaborating with other generations is to understand and accept that they are different from yours. Different people need different things from a manager, so ignoring differences or treating everyone in the same way will leave certain reports feeling devalued. Have conversations with your direct reports to understand what motivates them, unique experiences they’ve had, and their preferred workstyles.
3. Focus on the big picture
Understanding how each team member contributes to company goals and success allows for more meaningful recognition and appreciation. Reminding yourself and your team that everyone is working towards the same goal creates a sense of camaraderie, despite having different approaches. This allows you to come together as a team to celebrate wins and unpack challenges.
4. Learn from one another
Managing a team requires the humility to ask questions and learn what your different reports need from you. Develop mutual mentorship within your team and continuously invite your mentees to provide feedback. When structuring project teams, bring together staff members who have complementary skills and diverse perspectives to help break down generational silos.
5. Fight age bias and stereotypes
It's easy to stereotype different groups. For example, a baby boomer may think of millennials as tech-obsessed or lacking in people skills. To Gen Z, boomers may seem stubborn and inflexible. Everyone is unique. Instead of assuming the worst, fight your unconscious bias by proactively learning about individuals, rather than pegging them as a "typical" member of a generation. Asking them about their needs will make you a better manager and shut down any potential ageism.
6. Offer flexible solutions to diverse needs
Offering flexible hours, work from home options, or unique workspaces allow individuals to find the workstyle that best suits their needs. For some, this could help accommodate new families, while for others, this could help them ease into retirement. Providing opportunities for flexibility and personal development is an inexpensive way to meet a variety of employee needs. The key is to listen to your direct reports and find creative ways to meet their unique needs.
7. Don’t overlook the similarities
You might be surprised to find that beyond the superficial difference, there are many common values that team members of all generations share. However stark the differences might appear to be, research suggests there are more similarities than differences across generations. After all, most employees simply want to feel engaged with their work, receive fair pay, achieve, build a better quality of life, and be happy and respected. Likewise, many of us share the same frustrations, such as feeling overworked and underpaid. Create opportunities to bring your team together and help reduce those frustrations.
Listening is the key
While there are many approaches to managing age diversity in the workplace, the most important thing you can do is listen. Most individuals simply want to be heard, and the better you understand your team, the better you can offer them what they need to perform at their best. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, challenge your assumptions, and recognize the varying values each person brings.