“Millennials are addicted to their phones.”
“Baby Boomers don’t understand technology.”
“Checking Facebook at work is completely acceptable.”
“Checking Facebook at work is completely unacceptable.”
We’ve all heard these kinds of verbal grenades lobbed at co-workers in moments of frustration. Maybe we’ve even tossed a few ourselves. Generational differences can cause friction among team members, especially when older workers expect different things from their employers and co-workers than younger workers do.
Job security and retirement benefits may take priority for those nearing retirement, while new college grads may want flexible work arrangements and challenging projects. These differing values and expectations can quickly undermine engagement, especially if your workplace culture caters to one group over others (even unintentionally).
The solution? Create a workplace culture where every generation can thrive.
Generational Diversity: Leverage the Strengths of Every Generation
Each generation brings different strengths and perspectives to the job, and those differences boost productivity and promote creative problem solving. To build the most effective teams, you need to understand the strengths of every generational group.
Here’s a quick overview:
Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) – Baby Boomers are more individualistic than their traditionalist parents, and they value personal growth and ambition. They are highly educated team players and tend to be devoted to their careers (as opposed to their employers).
Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) – This generation grew up as latch-key kids while their parents worked, and consequently they tend to be more independent and self-sufficient. They view their work as a job rather than a mission, which leads them to place high value on work-life balance, personal goals and self-management.
Millennials (born between 1981 and 1995) – These are the first digital natives. Growing up with technology has made them comfortable with change and confident in learning new things, experimenting and embracing new ideas. Millennials tend to be optimistic, sociable and devoted to causes. They dislike strict hierarchies and prefer to be coached rather than supervised. They also value flexibility and believe completing work effectively is more important than clocking hours.
Generation Z (born between 1996 and 2010) – New to the workforce, Gen Z has been exposed to the internet, social networks and mobile systems from their early youth. Their tech-savvy nature makes them inclined to embrace multi-tasking. These workers tend to have a realistic versus idealistic outlook and want to be pioneers in their endeavors, with an entrepreneurial spirit to reflect this.
It's important to note: Traditionalists (born before 1946) – While most members of this generation have reached retirement, those who remain in the workforce are loyal and hardworking. Traditionalists value compliance and respect for authority. They believe status, respect and rewards must be earned. Work should be done in the office, every worker should complete his or her assigned number of hours, and workplace dynamics revolve around traditional hierarchies.
Generational differences fall into broad categories, and they may shift as people age. Still, these snapshots can give us a basic understanding of how each group is likely to respond in various situations.
Bridging the Generation Gap With Strategic Engagement
How do you motivate and engage everyone on your team when individual thought processes are so different? The first step is to create a culture where generational differences bring people together rather than driving them apart. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Adjust your recognition strategy based on individual motivations – The most powerful recognition strategies are those that promote cultural ideals while respecting differences among team members. For example, Baby Boomers may appreciate a hand-written note or monetary reward, while Millennials may prefer a gamification strategy with team rewards for reaching objectives. Effective recognition strategies can include both approaches.
Provide meaningful work to all employees – Younger workers want to know they are making a difference just as much as those who have been with your organization for thirty years. If you want to keep Millennials engaged, don’t saddle them with all the busy work. Instead, find ways to involve them in meaningful projects where they can make a difference. Conversely, don’t sideline older workers as they near retirement. Their experience and institutional knowledge is immeasurably valuable, even if they haven’t mastered the latest technology.
Create cross-generational mentorships – Every generation brings unique knowledge and skills to your organization. Sharing that knowledge with others can be an excellent way to build bridges and form collaborative partnerships. For example, Baby Boomers can teach Millennials how to hone their communication and leadership skills, while Millennials can share their technology knowledge with less tech savvy Traditionalists.
Cater communication to the individual – Millennials and Gen-Zers may function well with texting and social forums, but those mediums may cause Baby Boomer and Traditionalist team members to feel frustrated and isolated. Use a variety of communication styles to promote collaboration, and keep in mind that even the most tech-savvy young workers value regular face-to-face interactions with managers and co-workers.
Every generation has unique perspectives that bring value to your organization. By recognizing those strengths and building on them, you can promote stronger engagement and workplace satisfaction for every person on your team.