Analyzing generational differences is a popular topic as people try to understand the unique experiences each generation goes through. However, leading members of multiple generations can be challenging, especially when it comes to communication and work styles. This article provides tips on how to bridge any “generation gaps” that could come into play.
The Generations in Today’s Workforce
The youngest folks (Generation Z) are just entering the workforce, while those in the oldest generation (the Silent Generation) are continuing to work well into their senior years. Many organizations today have a workforce that encompasses four (or even five) generations:
- 1996-2012: Generation Z (aka New Silent Generation, Generation 2020)
- 1980-1995: Millennials (aka Generation Y)
- 1965-1979: Generation X
- 1946-1964: Baby Boomers
- 1925-1945: Silent Generation (traditionalists)
Members of each generation are shaped by common life experiences (think the Great Depression, World War II, selfie culture and more). In turn, these experiences affect their personalities, communication preferences and work styles. Your job as a leader is to create a cohesive, productive group out of diverse individuals, and that means taking generational differences into account.
Key Experiences For Each Generation
- Value Programming – World War II; The Great Depression
- Influences – Joe DiMaggio; John Wayne; Betty Crocker
- Cyber Literacy – “In the room” when the first fax made its way through the fax machine
- Value Programming – Watergate; Civil & Women’s Rights; Assassinations (J.F.K. & M.L.K.); Vietnam
- Influences – The Beatles; Beaver Cleaver; Rosa Parks; Gloria Steinem; John Belushi; Captain Kirk
- Cyber Literacy – Widely variant
- Value programming – MTV; AIDS; Video Games; The Fall of the Berlin Wall; The Gulf War
- Influences – Bill Clinton; Beavis & Butthead; Michael Jordan; O.J. Simpson; Bill Gates; Steve Jobs; Ted Bundy
- Cyber Literacy – Very Strong
- Value Programming – Oklahoma City Bombing; Columbine; 9/11; The Election of Barack Obama; Hurricane Katrina
- Influences – Barney; Mark McGuire & Sammy Sosa; The Backstreet Boys; Dawson’s Creek; Full House; Justin Timberlake
- Cyber Literacy – Invented Facebook & Google
- Value Programming – Wars in Iraq & Afghanistan; Impending response to use of chemical weapons in Syria; more to come!!
- Influences – Lady Gaga; Justin Bieber; Hannah Montana; Lebron James
- Cyber Literacy – Hyper Connectivity
Tips for Managing a Multigenerational Workforce
An effective team is one that’s agile enough to move beyond stereotypes and clichés and is focused on the job at hand. Taking an individual’s age into consideration is just one of many factors that will influence your leadership style. Regardless of their age, all employees appreciate being treated with trust, courtesy and respect.
Each generation comes with its own unique qualities, strengths, and weaknesses. Therefore, it is essential to focus on the opportunities that multiple generations bring to your team. Instead of focusing on negative traits, look for development opportunities to build future leaders.
Mix Things Up
Try building teams that include a variety of age groups because team diversity is always a good thing. Each generation can bring its unique skills to the group. For example, older workers could help transfer institutional knowledge while younger workers could take part in reverse (or reciprocal) mentoring.
Socialize in Non-Work Settings
Building camaraderie is an excellent move no matter the age groups involved. However, socializing in fun, low-pressure settings can be especially helpful for bringing diverse individuals together. The more often employees interact with those different from them, the less those differences matter. Team lunches (no work talk allowed!), volunteering, or a fun activity will appeal to all ages.
Consider Situational Leadership®
Leading a multigenerational workforce lends itself nicely to situational management because there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The Situational Leadership® Model is tailored to individuals and tasks, so it automatically considers individual quirks, strengths and weaknesses, generationally related or not.
- Can you identify any generational traits among your staff members? Can you observe if those traits have affected communication or teamwork in any way?
- Take steps to create a “learning community” at your organization where diverse employees can learn and share. Ask employees for suggestions on what they’d like to learn from each other and set aside a regular time to share