There are four different generations working in government today—Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. When approaching working outside of our own generation, we often have a tendency to rely on stereotypes (i.e. Traditionalists will never accept change and Millennials are unreliable job hoppers) and that can ruin great partnerships before they ever get started.
When you find yourself working across the generational landscape, here are some tips for managing and understanding your employees to use different ages to your advantage, rather than allowing them to impede great work:
- Recognize your own biases. In our politically correct world, we get really caught up in the idea that we shouldn’t have biases. But recognizing what yours are as they apply to your multi-generational employees can help you better understand why you view certain people the way you do. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing, and this knowledge can help you be more open minded in your interactions with everyone.
- Even though we tend to view age groups as being wholly different, they all share similar values, and these are especially important in the workplace. Everyone values respect, achievement, and responsibility. Give feedback and offer accolades when appropriate, and distribute tasks to your employees as fairly as possible. Don’t allow generational stereotypes to dictate who receives which assignments.
- Building trust among your employees is of utmost importance. You can do this by being a leader, rather than a manager. When you lead, you take the time to listen, learn, and build relationships. Your curiosity will help you determine how each of your generationally diverse sets of employees works best, and as you build relationships, your employees will learn the best ways to interact with you.
- Create diverse teams. Don’t look at a certain project and only choose your Gen Xers or Millennials. Studies have shown that, no matter the project, teams with a variety of generational representatives come up with more innovative ideas and solutions to problems. When you allow the generations to collaborate, you’re also giving them a space to explore their differences, and learn how everyone prefers to work or communicate.
- Resistance to change doesn’t come with age. It’s hard for everyone because, to a degree, we all like the level of comfort we have with our status quo. When change is coming for your employees, approach it with sensitivity at all levels.
- Job hopping is about age, but not in the way we necessarily perceive it. Studies indicate that Traditionalists and Baby Boomers were also likely to move from job to job, just like today’s Gen Xers and Millennials. The difference is that as employees get closer to retirement, they are less likely to leave their current employer. That said, retention is important to every age group. Don’t expend all of your energy trying to keep Millennials happy while completely ignoring Baby Boomers. Everyone wants to feel valued.
- Along with number six, Traditionalists and Baby Boomers tend to have more interagency loyalty, while Gen Xers and Millennials have interpersonal loyalty. For many, this was born out of seeing older employees pushed out of their jobs as they neared retirement. Still, all age groups value success. When you define success, leverage that generational knowledge and explain outcomes at the personal, team, and agency levels.
- Training and development are important for everyone, no matter how long they have been on the job. We all want the opportunity to learn more about the things that interest us or how we can do our jobs more efficiently. Find out what your employees want to learn, or how they want to develop, and offer guidance or training as appropriate.
- Understand that respect is given differently by each generation. Millennials and Gen Xers have a tendency to offer respect to anyone who deserves it no matter their job title, while Baby Boomers and Traditionalists often see respect as being given to someone based on his or her position. As a leader, respect all of your employees, but know that you also have to earn it for yourself.
- Be sensitive to the way different generations work. Try and understand how each person prefers to communicate, who works best individually or as a team, or who requires more consistent feedback.
Many of these tips are great for managing any kind of diversity among your employees, be it age, skill level, time on the job, background, communication preferences, the list goes on and on. How have you leveraged employee differences to build a better team?