• June 26, 2022

Empowering a Multigenerational Workforce

For the first time, we currently have five generations in the workplace. While there are variations on values and approaches to work within each generation, research has shown that people in each have taken on characteristics as a whole.

  • The Silent Generation (born 1925 to 1945) still make up about 3% of the workforce and are known for their strong work ethic and formal nature in the workplace.
  • Baby boomers (1946 to 1964) are known to highly prioritize career ambition and financial success.
  • Generation X (1965 to 1980) value independence and personal development and are also credited with introducing the concept of work-life balance.
  • Millennials (1981 to 2000) are digital natives and started the trend of creating more informal work environments. They aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo to come up with innovative solutions.
  • Generation Z (2001 to 2020) want authentic employers and prioritize flexibility and transparency in their work environments.

Each of these groups has lived through different formative events, trends, technological advancements, cultural movements, and more and as such, have different perspectives on how to best communicate, solve problems and work together.

To bring out the best in each employee and facilitate collaboration between them, people managers must understand their unique motivators and preferences. Here are a few tips on leading a multigenerational workforce.

View Employees as Individuals

While understanding the overall trends and shared experiences of each generation is important, it is also critical that leaders view their team members as individuals with unique goals and backgrounds. For instance, the traits listed above, while based on research, are of course not universal or exhaustive. Rather, they are a very broad framework to help us better understand each other’s lived experiences. Megan Gerhardt, Ph. D, Director of Leadership Development at Miami University’s School of Business and co-author of Gentelligence, explains that this layer of identity, “helps us acknowledge that [generation] matters, it impacts your lens, but it doesn’t allow us to stereotype that all baby boomers are this way.”

Like with any other stereotype, trying to define a person by only their age is harmful. This often leads to negative generalizations such as “millennials are lazy” or “baby boomers are out of touch.” Of course, those aren’t true, but just the perception of them can quickly damage teams’ ability to work together because of people’s preconceived assumptions about each other. To leverage the best in each team member, leaders need to see employees as their whole selves. Age and generation are important pieces of how one views the world, but we always need to be careful not to put people in boxes.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Professor Gerhardt also shares how we can make generational differences an asset by checking the assumptions we make about each other. For instance, if a young employee were to ask their boss about a promotion, one assumption that may arise is that this new hire is entitled. Older generations come from a time when putting your head down and working hard was the expectation and asking directly for what you want was seen as taboo. This difference in perspective can quickly lead to tension. To address that tension, Gerhardt recommends challenging assumptions and viewing the situation from each other’s “lens.”

This means being curious rather than being judgmental. In this example, the new hire probably needs reassurance that they have a future with the organization, and the supervisor wants to know their employee is committed to contributing to the team. Having curiosity about the others’ goals instead of making assumptions based on stereotypes helps organizations turn generational differences into a valuable asset rather than perpetuating the “us vs. them” narrative. This way, colleagues can have an open dialogue where they learn to understand each other and can work towards mutually beneficial solutions.

Bridge the Generational Gap

The future of work challenges that organizations are facing are not going to be solved by one generation. To find solutions that work for everyone, teams are going to need to reach across the generational divide and appreciate each other’s unique perspectives and ideas. This will require employees to listen to each other and see differing perspectives as assets rather than competition. Leaders can build this trust by creating opportunities for employees of different ages to collaborate and mentor each other. I make it a point to have mentors who are both more and less experienced than I am.

At Rocket, we are constantly learning from one another, whether you’ve been a mainframe developer for decades or are joining the team with a completely different background and skillset. That is part of what makes us great at supporting our customers and staying innovative.

A truly diverse workforce includes a range of generations that bring their unique perspectives to the table. We can all learn something from each other that makes our teams stronger and more effective. While we may approach situations differently, if we have understanding for each other and openness for dissimilar opinions, we can find new creative ways to solve problems that bring a competitive advantage to the organization.

Sharra Owens-Schwartz 4 Posts

Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Senior Director at Rocket Software

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