Trying to Please Everyone: The Challenge of the Multigenerational Workforce

As new college graduates continue to inundate the job market and economic concerns have caused older employees to stay in the workforce longer, today’s companies often have employees representing four distinct generations. With more than 50 years separating some employees, managing these multigenerational teams can be incredibly challenging.

Complicating matters is that each generation has its own motivations and strengths they can bring to the table. And they are often contradictory to what you might think. Sure, your youngest workers might be just trying to get their feet wet, but many of today’s leading innovators are under 30.  And while baby boomers may be looking forward to retirement, they are still able to embrace the newest technologies to emerge in the workplace.

The key to successfully managing a multigenerational team is to understand the unique qualities of each individual and build a team in which everyone contributes. However, singling out certain individuals for key roles based on their age tends to drive division rather than bring people together. Indeed, the first step in building collaboration is to break down the stereotypes surrounding each generation (of course, this advice is coming to you courtesy of a typically cynical Gen Xer!).

You might think any recent college graduate is an expert at social media. However, their familiarity with the social networks doesn’t automatically translate into a firm understanding of their use in business. Instead, your baby boomer employees, who have had to adapt to the latest innovations and communication methods throughout their careers, may be better positioned to develop an effective social media strategy than their millennial counterparts.

As for senior employees, they are often relegated to mentoring positions, with the understanding that their extensive experience and perceived wisdom will benefit the young whippersnappers around them. The problem with this is that senior employees can still have a lot to learn, and delegating them to guiding others will cause them to miss out on opportunities to advance their own knowledge.

While each demographic certainly has its own individual concerns, they also have similar goals and expectations of what they want from their employer, like being able to see career paths so they know the internal opportunities available to them. Moreover, employees of any age want transparency to ensure that they know how their performance is evaluated. It is also good to provide regular recognition so that everyone, regardless of age or experience, feels that their contributions are appreciated.

Managing a multigenerational workforce can be challenging, but the benefits of having a mix of people with different skills and backgrounds can drive business performance. The key to success is to avoid making assumptions that an employee must excel in certain areas based on their age, which can put them in situations for which they aren’t well suited. Instead, by understanding the individual strengths of each employee, instead of assigning tasks based on the characteristics of their generation, you can encourage collaboration and foster success from all of your employees.

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