Understanding Generational Differences in the Workplace

In today’s workplace there is more diversity than ever. According to Forbes, at least three generations can be found in most workplaces. And as millennials, baby boomers and everyone in between diverge to generate results for your business, understanding each generation, and its specific values and needs, will help your organization run more smoothly and achieve more. Depending on their generation, employees may learn, communicate or perform their duties best with differing levels of supervision. So, fostering happier employees—from any generation—will mean reduced turnover, improved productivity and more.

Business team in an office lead by a businessman
Here at MAKE Corporation, our consultants span a range of generations, skills and experience. Understanding the unique needs and differences among our consultants has helped give us a unique perspective. I’m happy to share some of my observations and tips for managing generations and understanding their differences.

  1. Avoid stereotypes and myths. Applying preconceived notions to any employee is a bad idea, but it can cripple you when managing multiple generations of employees. I95 Business offers some of the common myths that can pigeonhole employees across generations. Be aware of them…and then banish them! While there are often consistencies among generations, the real differences among generations tend to fall into work style, communication preferences, recognition and work/life balance. For example, baby boomers traditionally (of course every employee is unique) prefer telephone, face-to-face contact, emails and meetings. Generation Y largely prefers shorter communication—instant messaging, texting and email are preferred. When it comes to career stability, Generation X likes to focus on employability (acquiring new skills) over climbing the career ladder. And Generation Y has a high preference for engaging workplaces over ones with fancy meeting rooms or other traditional perks.
  2. Adaption and flexibility are “musts.” Whether it’s in your communication style or in how you motivate your employees, be flexible and adapt to the needs of your team. If you notice that one communication method resonates more with a specific generation than with others, consider developing multiple channels of communication to deliver the message effectively across your team. Pay attention to what works (and what doesn’t), then adapt yourself and your organization so that you can effectively reach and lead all generations in the future.
  3. Be proactive to avoid conflict. As the number of employees across three or four generations increases, the likelihood of a younger employee managing someone considerably older increases…and the potential for conflict can arise. As The Denver Post observed, younger bosses can sometimes inflict an authoritarian attitude when managing older employees, leading to resentment and decreased productivity. A similar situation can occur with older employees taking on a “parental” role with younger employees. The easiest way to prevent conflicts in these situations is to provide copious, in-depth training to all supervisors, including tips and tools for managing multiple generations. A full understanding of your workforce and its preferences at the executive level will prepare you to provide supervisors with the tools they need to effectively lead members of your team—whatever generation they happen to fall in.

These are just a few tips to help your organization adapt to multiple generations of workers, they will help you create a solid foundation for continued success in managing your team.