By Kirsten Blakemore, MA CPCC, Sr. Consulting Partner at Partners In Leadership
As the workforce ages, business leaders are increasingly faced with the complex challenge of managing a multigenerational organization. In fact, according to Forbes, the modern office often houses up to four distinct generations under a single roof.
Whether in a large corporation or a small, family-owned business, it's important to honor the perspective of each employee -- and recognize that everyone has something unique to bring to the table in terms of skills and experience. In fact, a work culture that embraces a range of experiences and beliefs across generations ultimately leads to higher levels of productivity, collaboration, and engagement.
The trick to managing a multigenerational workforce is understanding differences that can cause conflict -- even leveraging these points of difference to improve engagement and accountability across every corner of the organization. Here's how.
1. Accept differences, and create trust through accountability.
Our relationship to our work has evolved over the decades. Many baby boomers started their careers at a time when men were the predominant breadwinners and expected to work long hours. As such, they may be most comfortable in a work setting in which they are given specific deadlines, clear expectations, and competitive benefits -- such as comped dinners or cab rides -- that accommodate this flexibility.
Meanwhile, millennials have embarked on their careers within a much more egalitarian, gender-diverse atmosphere. They may be more likely to expect flexibility and a definitive work-life balance, prioritizing things like maternity and paternity leave and the option to work remotely. Communication-wise, boomers might feel more comfortable with in-person interactions, while millennials often prefer the digital channels with which they grew up.
Differences in work styles and expectations may initially create some friction among employees. But when it comes to these different preferences, there is no "right" or "wrong" -- rather, there's an opportunity for all employees to learn from each other.
Tapping into this learning potential to break down the barriers preventing employees from connecting with one another requires leaders to direct company culture with intention. When leaders actively form the culture they want, they have the power to unify team members and prevent the formation of silos.
Leaders should also work to create a strong culture of accountability: a workplace environment in which all members take personal responsibility for thinking and acting in the manner necessary to achieve desired results. When leaders establish this kind of culture, employees are more likely to engage with their work and actively seek out opportunities to help the company grow. Doing so will lead to high levels of trust across the organization, helping leaders promote compromise and a healthy exchange of knowledge across generational divides.
For example, millennials may be able to learn better interpersonal skills from colleagues who have mastered these skills, and boomers can develop important digital communication skills. A culture of accountability encourages the mutual exchange of knowledge. Every employee can learn something from their colleagues that will enrich their skill set and contribute to progress towards organization-wide objectives.
2. Recognize that one employee's weakness may be another's strength -- and that a diverse skill set is necessary for tackling tough problems.
Generational diversity is the ultimate competitive advantage. In fact, troubleshooting in a cross-generational workplace often leads to higher levels of innovation and drives results.
Millennial and Gen Z speaker Ryan Jenkins echoes this sentiment: "A diverse team is better equipped to approach a problem from every angle, resulting in a better, more thought-through solution. Testing ideas against opposing points of view are how the best ideas get developed."
The lesson for leaders: don't hesitate to put baby boomers and millennials on the same projects. When working toward the same goal, boomers often bring an acute attention to detail and high quality assurance to the table. Millennials show up with creative mindsets and a drive for efficiency. Within a positive work culture, all of these qualities come together to drive optimal results.
3. Improve engagement by encouraging collaboration between employees of all ages.
Across the board, workplace engagement is at an all time low: according to Gallup, only 32% of employees in the US are engaged in their work, while a mere 13% of employees worldwide feel engaged. Yet engagement is a necessary component of a thriving work culture, and can contribute significantly to the achievement of a company's Key Results.
In fact, employees who are more proactively engaged -- a sign of happiness and satisfaction at work -- regularly demonstrate higher levels of efficiency and productivity. The recent Partners in Leadership "Happiness at Work" survey affirms that when employees are happier at work, 85% take more initiative and 73% claim to be better collaborators.
Gallup research scientists support this research, saying, "Engaged employees are more attentive and vigilant. They look out for the needs of their coworkers and the overall enterprise, because they personally 'own' the result of their work and that of the organization."
Hiring talent across generations with a diversity of opinions, perspectives, and experiences can benefit engagement levels and in turn, business outcomes. Cross-generational collaboration mobilizes everyone toward a common goal, deepening engagement and leading to an uptick in productivity that can propel your organization towards its Key Results.
An Opportunity for Growth
This give-and-take is nothing new; employees have always had to bridge generational differences in the workplace and work together towards common goals. However, the pace of societal and technological change in the last decade has augmented the generational divide, presenting a new set of challenges for today's employers -- in addition to new opportunities.
Strong leaders accommodate differences in work styles and perspectives, encourage collaboration across generations, and champion each employee's strengths while promoting cross-generational learning opportunities. Taking these steps will bolster engagement levels and teamwork, which are critical to achieving your Key Results.