For the first time, there are now five generations in the American workforce. Having so many generations represented in the labor force presents quite the challenge for employers and HR professionals: How do you effectively manage a workforce with a 50 to 60 year potential age gap between your youngest and most senior employees?
Understanding generational characteristics
While not every person will necessarily fit in with the characteristics of their particular generation, understanding the general traits and motivations associated with each generation will go a long way to helping employers design a management strategy that works. Below are snapshots of each generation, capturing the characteristics shared by many of the people born during those time periods. (For a more in-depth look at each generation, check out our infographic: Defining the Multigenerational Workforce)
Striking the right balance
When considering generational differences, it's important not to dwell on them, according to Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton School and coauthor of Managing the Older Worker. In an interview with the Harvard Business Review last year, Cappelli notes that while there are plenty of stereotypes about each generation, a good manager will help his team move beyond those labels to focus on the task at hand.
While employers should certainly endeavor to understand the unique needs of each of his employees, it's important not to focus on them or expect every employee of a particular age to be subject to them; otherwise you're just reinforcing those stereotypes.
Strategies for managing a multigenerational workforce
Recognize strengths/weaknesses Each generation comes with its own inherent strengths and weaknesses. Millennials, for example, are known to be tech-savvy and quick on their feet, both very valuable traits, but a reliance on technology and tendency to rush to action can sometimes be detrimental to their success. Baby Boomers, while perhaps less comfortable with technology, tend to be somewhat more cautious. Being aware of these generational tendencies will help managers figure out the best approach to take when working with members of each generation, and can help them determine which tasks to delegate to which employees.
Be conscious of communication preferences They say people are products of their times, and this is definitely true when it comes to communication styles, something managers should take into consideration when communicating with employees of different generations.
Develop recognition/bonus programs that reward productivity and longevity It's customary for employers to recognize and reward employees differently based on tenure (how long someone has been with the company). But in a multigenerational work environment, this might make highly productive, newer employees feel that their contributions aren't as valued as those of their older or more senior counterparts. Having multiple incentive strategies will ensure that every employee feels they have an equal opportunity to be rewarded for their work.
Does your organization have a strategy for managing the needs and expectations of employees across multiple generations? Let us know your tips for managing a multigenerational workforce in the comments below!
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