The workforce generation gap – are we really that different?Natalie Lewis
Let’s look at the workforce generation gap and dispel the myth that having a workforce with multiple generations is a nightmare to manage. I will give you a brief outline of each generation and what motivates them and then offer my top tips to management and owner/managers on how to get the most out of each generation and create a cohesive and harmonious workplace.
The ‘generation gap’ or ‘intergenerational divide’ (if you want to sound posh) has become an interesting debate surrounding workplace equality and diversity in recent years.
We are now looking at most workplaces having 4 to 5 generations under one roof. The belief is that this brings with it a myriad of diverse characteristics, behaviours and motivators that all clash along the way.
It seems that most HR professionals and behavioural experts want to focus on the conflict that these multi-generational work places can create rather than looking at the commonality of generations. I personally think this is lazy and unhealthy.
Let’s focus on the positives for a minute – each generation has completely different experiences; from education and use of technology to social pressures. In addition, each generation has different types of knowledge which stem from the way in which they’ve been brought up.
We have the Traditionalists (often referred to as the Silent Generation) who were born pre-1945 to whom work is an obligation and their prime motivation was home ownership. We then have the Baby Boomers who were born between 1946 and 1965 to whom work was expected and their prime motivation was job security. After them we have Generation X born between 1966 and 1977, this generation sees work as a difficult challenge and is predominately motivated by work-life balance and independence. The Millennial (GenY) generation who are born between 1978 and 1995 see work as a means to an end, their prime motivators are freedom and flexibility. Finally, there’s the Generation X who are born after 1995 for whom work is always evolving and who are mainly motivated by experiences and can often be seen as the ‘career multitaskers’.
All of these generations have similarities; they want and need a sense of purpose, they want interesting work that makes a difference and one that aligns with their personal values. They want to feel cared about and treated as an individual.
Whilst the Traditionalists and Baby Boomers may not have been given this sense of individuality in their early years of working, they easily adapt to the concept. GenX, Y and Z are all fairly similar in the sense that they want work-life balance, flexibility and experiences. (This makes for a more fluid view of work which may clash with the older generation who are more used to seeing careers in a prescribed and highly structured way – the old ‘career ladder’).
Problems arise when the Traditionalists and Baby Boomers run companies in the old hierarchical and very process driven style that they grew up in. Where management allocated tasks and staff were expected to want to stay in one company and work their way up. Those businesses are a dying breed and quite rightly so. The savvy Traditionalists and Baby Boomers realise that they need to make some basic changes in order to attract and keep GenX, Y and Z employees.
Bringing the generation gap together doesn’t have to be complicated, there are some very simple principles that you can apply and most of them centre around your company values. So, let’s look at how I start the process of creating a harmonious multi-generational work place.
My 6 step plan to greatness:
1. Determine your company mission and vision
2. Next, you need to determine your company values – these are going to be the foundations of everything that you go on to do; hiring, firing, general day to day tasks.
3. Your mission, vision and values then need to be clearly communicated to your whole team from management to employees and associates
4. The next step is to ensure the whole team (as individuals) understand how their job contributes to the overall business plan and company objectives.
5. After that, I set up a practice that provides employees with regular feedback (usually monthly); on how they’re doing in the role, how they deliver the company values and what they can do better to achieve their objectives using coaching techniques. This is a two-way conversation, not a dictation and does require some upskilling for managers in basic coaching techniques.
6. Recognise and reward – say thank you to your employees and reward each as individuals (this might be by pay, vouchers, experience days or promotion for example).
These steps can be implemented by any business and the cost to do it can simply be time.
The benefits of doing this are huge; you improve cross-generation communication as everyone is working towards one clear vision. You manage your team based on the company values and your usual work targets (those who don’t ‘fit’ tend to leave). You only recruit new people where they fit your company values which results in less conflict and a stronger workforce. You encourage your team and treat them as individuals based on what motivates them. Your management team become less dictatorial and more coaching driven. All of these contribute to less sickness absence, lower staff turnover and fewer HR issues.
In any business, these steps are my starting point to building the company up for success. After these I make sure the company has robust HR documentation and processes, introduce HR software to reduce management time and then we look at further steps to improve profitability, keeping people at the centre of everything.
All generations contribute to a healthy and profitable workplace, you just have to lead them in the way that motivates them.
Is there a real generation gap? I don’t think so.
If you want your business to be more profitable and harmonious, click here for more information