Millennials are the most studied generation to-date. But for most small and midsize businesses (SMBs), attracting Millennial talent isn’t enough. They need to create cultures that appeal to multiple generations and foster collaboration between them.
Millennials account for more than half of all employees in the U.S., and they will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025. Their needs certainly matter. But there is another trend at play. Baby Boomers are working longer. While the total labor force is projected to increase by 6.6 percent from 2016 to 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the number of workers age 65 and older will rise by 57.6 percent. And don’t forget Gen-Zers. They are entering the workplace for the first time and bringing new behaviors and expectations with them.
Small businesses have no choice but to develop cultures that attract younger generations while appealing to older employees too. They need to manage these generations’ strengths and weaknesses, drive engagement, and facilitate cross-generational collaboration. Let’s consider how.
Understand your people--not just trends
External research will help you understand generational nuances. But you need a handle on what is happening within your four walls. To do so, talk to your own people, suggests Mary Massad, division president of employment operations at Insperity, a professional employer organization (PEO) that provides businesses with full-service HR solutions.
Ask employees about their preferences and expectations, as well as their perceived strengths, weaknesses, and areas of interest. This can be done as part of a performance management cycle, in a group setting, or via an employee survey.
Be willing to rewrite the job description
At a recent panel discussion in Chicago hosted by Insperity, “What’s Your Workplace ROI? It’s All About the Company You Keep,” Massad described Insperity’s approach to creating a multi-generational workforce. Right now, about half of its team are Baby Boomers and Generation Xers, while the other half are younger. Massad said they understand how to keep their tenured employees happy in their existing roles. But to appeal to new generations, they need to “rewrite the way they work.”
A Gallup study found that 59 percent of Millennials rate opportunities to learn and grow as extremely important when applying for a job, compared to 44 percent of Gen Xers and 41 percent of Baby Boomers. Millennials are also more willing than others to switch jobs. This can make retention challenging, but there are ways companies can use this to their advantage.
Insperity creates opportunities across the organization and encourages employees to pursue them. That way, when employees are ready for a change, they are more likely to do so internally. At the panel, Massad explained that younger workers don’t like to work within the confines of a job description. Giving them opportunities to work on projects outside of their immediate role allows them to learn a lot of skills quickly. Other employees can take advantage of this if they want to, but they are also welcome to stay within the lines-;the comfort of their job description.
Invest in upskilling
As tenured employees near retirement, companies worry about preserving institutional knowledge. But, at the Workplace ROI panel, Howard Tullman, executive director of the Kaplan Institute at the Illinois Institute of Technology, explained that the “reverse knowledge transfer” is also critical, especially since employees are working longer.
Tullman noted successful employees are lifelong learners. To upskill your workers and retain them, he suggests creating career plans that map out the skills they will have to master as their careers continue. The company provides the curriculum and the resources--the employee commits their time. This way, you are investing in the future together.
Flip the script
Many companies have experienced employees mentor the newer ones. But Massad says a more interesting approach for both generations is to have younger generations mentor the older ones. For example, Gen-Zers might be able to provide valuable digital training to other generations.
Insperity is formalizing its own cross-mentoring program. They started it three years ago in the Recruiting division. It has since expanded to other departments. Massad says blending the generations in this way has created relationships that may not have emerged otherwise. Both sides benefit from the other’s perspective. It has also helped people identify commonalities and improve collaboration.
As you work to design a workplace that appeals to all ages, don’t lose sight of your authentic culture--your mission, vision, and values. The tips above should help you find ways to create an engaged and collaborative mutigenerational workforce, while staying true to your company ethos.