How to get the best out of different generations

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How many generations work in your business? Thanks to an ageing workforce and delayed retirement, these days the answer may well be ‘four’.

Baby Boomers (born between 1946 to 1964) and Generation X (born between 1965 and 1977) now often sit side by side with Generation Y, also known as Millennials (born in 1978 or later) and increasingly also Generation Z, born around the turn of the century and starting to enter the workplace.

A multi-generational workforce can bring significant benefits. From the solid experience and broad perspective older workers have built up during decades of working, to the fresh ideas, new attitudes and collaborative approaches younger employees lend a business - different ages add to the mixing pot and enhance the company culture.

But when it comes to management, it can be a challenge to lead and motivate a staff member who’s much older - or younger - than yourself.

It’s natural to feel a little awkward if you’re in charge of someone the same age as your parents - or even grandparents. On the flipside, if you’re as a seasoned manager nearing retirement, it may not be easy to relate to staff that probably have more in common with your teenager, or grandchild.

So when it comes to leading a multi-generational team, and help them get the best out of each other, it can help to know some broad strategies.

Offer flexibility to everyone

A team consisting of employees of varying ages brings different life stages and different needs. Work-life balance is important to everyone, but perhaps in different ways.

The classic case for flexible working is for Millennials and Gen Xers who are parents - juggling childcare and school events around their workweek.

But being able to choose hours or working from home for a portion of the week if the business allows it can suit all age ranges.

Baby Boomers coming up to retirement might appreciate the chance to gradually scale back on their workloads, while still playing a key role in the business. Flexible working can also free them up for their own caring commitments, whether that’s for grandchildren or elderly relatives.

Meanwhile, given the option, younger workers may jump at the chance to do external study, travel or set up a side business.

Try bespoke communicating

Find out how people prefer to communicate with each other - and you.

Older workers might get more from a phone call or face-to-face chat. For Millennials, constant contact has always been the norm so alongside emails they might engage better with texting or instant messaging.

Encourage cross-generation talk

Multiple generations working together can sometimes mean negative stereotyping and unconscious bias. Maybe some older workers see younger people as attached to their smartphones and too keen to change the status quo. Equally, younger team members may see older colleagues as ‘stuck in their ways’.

Encourage everyone to understand each other a little more with some mentoring in whatever they do best, whether that’s someone in their 20s keeping an older colleague updated on the latest technology at work, or a senior employee passing on relevant wisdom and deep experience to someone younger.

Make sure they can see the value and benefit of getting wisdom from a different generation, and everyone is respected for their experience.

But see beyond the labels

Of course, it’s handy to know broad preferences and attitudes different age groups tend to have. But not every employee will identify with the way his or her generation is supposed to behave or think.

So rather than make assumptions about an employee based on their age, try to get to know them individually and manage them according to their personality. Make sure every generation in your business is valued, but as individuals instead of groups.

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