For the first time in the modern age, we have five generations present in the workplace. From the Traditionalists born before 1945 all the way up until Gen Z, the generational diversity present in most companies can create a wide range of challenges.
Much has been said regarding this topic, specifically how to speak to each generation at work. Some view this kind of diversity as a hindrance to growth.
Having a multigenerational workforce can, and should, be a distinct advantage for companies today. The wide range of ideas and knowledge from a broad group of people can actually serve the company well, and help employees excel in their work.
This kind of environment doesn’t happen accidentally. As with everything else in the workplace, it begins with leadership. “Establish a solid understanding of who makes up your staff and the different dynamics at play,” says Dennis Collins, senior director of marketing at West Unified Communications Services. Knowing who is actually present in the company makes a big difference in leading across generational lines.
Understanding is the first step toward leading well, and the next step requires a sense of candor not always present. “Having an open and candid conversation about the benefits that come from a multigenerational workforce makes everyone feel more comfortable voicing their needs and concerns,” notes Collins.
The most common mistake
Millennials are often the only generation that gets any attention when it comes to generational issues at work. It’s easy for a company to assume they must go “all-in” on millennials, consequently ignoring older generations in the process. “Ignoring the needs of any group of people in a company will result in a drop in productivity and unhappy employees,” says Collins.
For example, a company may adopt a new tool for project management or communication that’s preferred by millennials and Gen Z. While this tool may be useful, it could be a hindrance to the work of older generations. Companies don’t need to chase the latest and greatest tools and technology; instead, they should look for things that work in their current culture. Creating a strong workplace for generations starts by demonstrating a care and understanding for each person.
Everyone must lead
With so many unique dynamics in a multigenerational workforce, success requires each employee to demonstrate leadership in their role. Patric Palm, CEO and co-founder of Favro, says people need to lead in three key areas:
- Lead themselves without supervision
- Lead peers
- Lead upward by asking their bosses the right questions and not delegate their problems upward
Focusing on leadership is a powerful way to engage millennials. One survey found 80 percent of millennials identified themselves as leaders today. Empower this younger generation to lead in the three key areas above, and bridges will be built across generational lines.
A chance to learn from one another
Millennials love learning. As a generation that grew up with the internet, they know how to quickly find anything they need to know. Multiple generations in a workplace create an opportunity for people to learn from one another and hear different perspectives on the same ideas.
One growing trend is that of “reverse mentoring,” a program where a younger employee and an older employee help each other learn new ideas. Since millennials are digital natives, the assumption is that they have more to offer than older generations. While that may be true in tech, it’s not necessarily true in other areas of work. “Seasoned employees have a lot more to teach junior employees about business intuition,” says Aaron Harvey, executive creative director at Ready Set Rocket. “Business is much more than trends and technology. It’s applied intuition that takes years of experience to develop.”
Leveraging the unique strengths of each generation and enabling them to learn from each other creates a more collaborative, engaged environment. When employees in general, and specifically millennials, have more opportunities to learn at work, their engagement, productivity, and overall happiness increases.
The views of the author of this article do not necessarily represent the views of Gradifi.