Multi-Generational Workforce Leadership Challenges

Like any new year, the start of 2014 brings a number of challenges for business leaders.

Today, we’re faced with healthcare issues, climate change and its impact on our workforce, and an improving, but not yet robust economy. We also have, for the first time in our history, the opportunity to lead, manage and learn from a four generational workforce. With the economic slowdown of the past six years, more employees who would previously be retired are still working, presenting a unique workforce.

January is National Mentoring Month, and in recognition, I’d like to frame today’s blog as a discussion of both the trends and opportunities for cross mentoring within this multi-generational workforce.

First, let’s take a look at the four distinct groups that comprise today’s workforce and some traits that define them (Adapted from Bersin & Associates, “A New Organizational Learning Model: Learning On-Demand,” (October 2007) (accessed April 25, 2010); and others.

1. Traditionalists (1922-1945)

Traditional; instructor led; used to homework; tech challenged; “teach me”.

2. Boomers (1946-1964)

Independent; expert or instructor led; goal oriented, competitive; tech latecomers, “lead me to the information”.

3. Gen X’ers (1965-1980)

Individualists and also collaborative; peer to peer; “connect me to people”; tech adept.

4. Millennials (1981-1990)

Need to see context and value; search and explore with each other, online, in their own time and place; “connect me to everything”; tech savvy.

According to The IBM Center for the Business of Government, in a report issued in 2011, here were the top trends to look out for in a multi-generational workforce:

  • Increased Use of New Technologies to Communicate
  • Increased Expectation for Work-Life Flexibility
  • Increased Expectation for Continual Growth and Development
  • Increased Need for New Ways to Recognize and Reward Employees
  • Increased Need to Engage the Entire Workforce
  • Increased Emphasis on Innovation

As we might expect from the defining traits of each generation, a key to melding the four generations together, as a leader, is to adapt your explanations, requests and responsibilities to the individual strengths. And while it would be easy to assume that all traditionalists eschew technology, there are many older workers who have embraced it, and those millennials who are the opposite.

From a mentoring standpoint, each generation brings its own strengths and weaknesses. Cross mentoring, from older to younger; younger to older; and within generations may present the best opportunity for you to capitalize on ALL of your employees. In addition to the buy-in of organizational values that occurs when workers are engaged, cross mentoring presents an opportunity within your organization for stereotypes to be shed by your employees and the best of each generation to come forward and be utilized.

Of course, the question in mentoring is whether to actively promote and assign the mentor/mentee relationship, or to simply encourage it.

What are you finding that works best in your organization?

Boxer Advisors is a full-service consulting, training and coaching firm with more than 50 professional consultants, facilitators, and coaches and carefully selected partners providing services to Federal agencies and Fortune 1000 companies since 1996.

Contact us today to learn more.

photo credit: ffaalumni via photopin cc

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