“Those Millennials. If they quit buying those lattes, maybe they could afford to buy a house.”
“The Great Recession? Totally Baby Boomers’ fault.”
Sound familiar? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve noticed that analyzing generational differences is all the rage. But when you actually work with and lead members of different generations, the novelty wears off quickly. Whether it’s younger employees supervising much older ones or individuals of multiple ages tackling the same tasks, leading members of multiple generations can be daunting.
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-TBD: 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.
Consider the tips below on how to bridge any “generation gaps” that could come into play:
Avoid stereotyping: An effective team is one that’s agile enough to move beyond stereotypes and clichés and is focused on the job at hand. It’s important to realize that there are many inconsistencies and commonalities between generations. 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.
Think positively: Each generation comes with its own unique qualities, strengths and weaknesses. Instead of focusing on negative traits, focus on the opportunities that multiple generations bring to your team. For example, Millennials are often stereotyped as job-hoppers. But, if you get stuck in that mindset, you may overlook development opportunities to build future leaders.
Mix things up: Just as with stereotyping, it’s a mistake to focus solely on the broad, unique traits of each generation. Instead, consider if and how that uniqueness matters in terms of your day-to-day operations or projects. Team diversity is always a good thing, so try building teams that include a variety of age groups. That way, each generation can bring its own 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 a great move no matter the age groups involved. But fun, low-pressure settings can be especially helpful with bringing diverse individuals together. The more often employees interact with those different from them, the less those differences matter. Positively socializing outside of work will also positively influence communication and teamwork in the office. 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