The modern workforce comprises several generational groups, with Gen Z now joining the ranks. Business leaders can be challenged to keep employees engaged – with each other, with their teams, and with the company itself.
Backgrounds are different. Communication styles are different. And the friction can increase when work patterns bring together employees of differing ages in constantly changing teams.
But an age-diverse workforce can work in your favor. Fostering communication and collaboration across groups creates opportunities for new energy, enhanced productivity and potential business success. When leaders can better manage employees of all ages, it’s a win-win for everyone.
It’s important for managers to take a positive approach to how multi-generational workers are transforming the workplace by identifying the invaluable experience that comes from all sides.
This starts with understanding all the generations in your workforce – becoming educated on generational issues, what each employee values and what motivates them both at work and at home.
An important aspect of managing multi-generational teams is that employees from one generation may perceive those from another generation differently. For example, Boomers may take the mindset that Millennials job-hop and are motivated only by financial rewards.
“The myth of the job-hopping Millennial is just that – a myth. The data consistently shows that today’s young people are actually less professionally itinerant than previous generations,” writes Ben Casselman on FiveThirtyEight.com.
In fact, IBM’s Institute for Business Value report found that Millennials, Gen X-ers and Boomers have many of the same career goals: making a positive impact on the organization, helping solve social and/or environmental challenges, and working with a diverse group of people were the top three long-term goals cited across the three generational groups.
According to research cited in Harvard Business Review, employees across generations all value meaningful work – but they define what that means differently. It’s important for managers to understand those differences to open and encourage communication amongst employees.
Here are four ways to improve communication and leverage the power of your multi-generational workforce:
1. Avoid age stereotypes and labels
Don’t judge people or pigeonhole them because of their age; some 65-year-olds are technology experts and some 25-year-olds have much to teach their older colleagues. While as a leader, you need to educate yourself on the generational differences of your team members, don’t focus on those differences with your team. Stereotypes are more likely to reinforce conflict, so instead, focus on ways to counteract them.
Treat your employees as individuals, which makes the age gap less important and lets employees focus elsewhere. Additionally, don’t assume that conflict is due to generational issues. Every organization has conflict, but this isn’t necessarily because one person is 20 years older or younger than another. Assumptions about people and age groups can inhibit problem solving.
2. Manage to the unique strengths and needs of each generation
Avoid a one-size-fits all approach to managing a multi-generational team. As noted in our post about creating a performance development culture, evaluate employees based on who they are and what their strengths are, and not based on their generation.
Additionally, consider each person’s situation and offer support around that. Gen Xers, for example, may represent a large percentage of your managers, but they are also likely to be raising young children, which may affect how flexible they can be with their time and location.
3. Support learning and career development across all age groups
Promote learning and development by encouraging informal mentorship within the team. This encourages “bi-directional” coaching, which is a good way to help employees build positive working relationships with each other. Look for opportunities in which every team member has an opportunity to lead.
4. Build a strong multi-generational work group
Be inclusive of perspectives and points of view, and make an effort to work collaboratively. Create an atmosphere in which everyone feels they can contribute, lead and speak. Encourage team members to embrace their commonalities, such as shared interests or hobbies, which can build trust. When creating project teams, aim to bring a mix of ages and generations together, promoting opportunities for team members to learn from each other.
When individuals of all ages are engaged by a shared purpose and work together effectively, surprising value can be created for your company.
Diverse viewpoints and perspectives can have a powerful impact on a workplace, positively affecting everything from productivity and retention to morale and engagement.
Read next: Five tips to optimize team-building