If you’ve got a wide age range of employees in your office, you’ve probably noticed they have different work styles. In addition to handling projects differently, they can also clash with each other, creating a less-effective team and increasing employee turnover.
While there are a variety of names and classifications for the multiple generations currently in the workplace, your best bet for managing different age groups might be to view your staff in terms of early, mid- and late-career workers. Understanding some basic differences among the generations in your office can help you avoid problems, improve productivity and keep morale high on your team.
#1 Learn their Priorities
The first step in effectively managing a multigenerational workplace is to accept that your employees have different personal and professional goals.
Younger workers are less focused on the long-term success of an employer because most do not plan on staying with their current job more than three years, according to workplace research studies. Their workplace objectives might be more short-term where your agency or office success is concerned, such as meeting quarterly or annual goals, rather than thinking five years down the road.
Generation X is no longer on a learning curve but isn’t focused on winding down their careers, either. They are looking to improve their pay, work/life balance and climb the ladder into executive positions.
Baby boomers are focused on stability, want group consensus and are eyeing retirement. With more and more older workers putting off retirement because of the recent recession, this can lead to inter-office frustration as younger and middle-aged workers have to wait to move up the ladder.
#2 Address Different Work Styles
Set boundaries for personal work habits in your office to create a middle ground for employee interaction. For example, younger workers who prefer to text might drive older workers crazy because of the extra time it takes to send five texts to complete a communication one phone call would cover. Texting also doesn’t leave a paper trail.
Put limits on evening and weekend work communication; those without children might not think twice about working after dinner or Sunday evening. Create a policy that requires employees to ask themselves, “Do I need to send this email or text now?” when working at night or on weekends. When you send staff communications, use the right mix of emails, texts, IMs, printed memos and verbal instructions.
#3 Increase Supervisor/Subordinate Communication Lines
Ask older managers to take time to explain why they are giving younger staffers projects or tasks, rather than just issuing mandates. This will help newbies feel more a part of the process and will help them build their job skills. Have managers seek input from subordinates on a regular basis to show workers they’re valued. Mentoring programs not only help younger workers improve their skills, but let older managers get more in touch with their younger subordinates.
While all workers want to feel they are valued, make sure your older managers know younger subordinates look to advance their careers with specific feedback and detailed job descriptions tied to two-way annual reviews. Let younger managers know that older subordinates can feel self-conscious and defensive and to use tact and solicit input when issuing orders.
#4 Watch for Cliques
People tend to gravitate toward people like themselves, whether it’s age, sex, area of the country or income background. Increase social and professional interaction among your employees by working closely with project managers to create balanced teams, rather than letting managers choose their members. Encourage social interaction among your staff with group lunches, evening sporting events or a weekend family picnic.
#5 Hold Lunch and Learns
Let your staff work on their presentation skills while they help train co-workers on work-related topics. Have a younger worker give a lunch talk on the benefits of using IM, texting, smart phone apps and the Cloud, providing basic terminology, tips and shortcuts. Have a mid-career worker discuss how to improve soft job skills and a build professional network. Let an older worker give a talk on retirement planning basics for all ages, working with your HR department or a qualified retirement planner. Older staff members can also give a talk on key management skills necessary for career development. Schedule one session for a group discussion on employees’ views of work/life balance. This can be an eye opener for everyone and help build respect for co-workers’ boundaries and personal priorities.
Note: Meet with HR
Make sure you don’t run afoul of discrimination laws by using inappropriate language when referring to a group of workers in a particular age group, by creating work policies based on age or by providing different benefits for different generations.
Add Your Tips to This Discussion
If you’ve found ways to bridge the generation gap at your office, department or agency, please share them here.