By: Taylor Martz
In today’s workforce, there is a growing demand for generational intelligence. Employees can be interacting daily with anywhere from 3 to 5 generations simultaneously! From traditionalists to Generation Z, it’s not unheard of to find a 30-40-year age gap between coworkers. As you can imagine, this age gap can create frequent miscommunication and confusion if motives, desires, and traits are not understood.
In order to foster harmony and avoid tension, it’s important we understand how different generations see themselves and one another. When managing multigenerational work environments, it’s important to not just “bridge the gap,” but help generations blend rather than meet in the middle. Now, more than ever, playing to an employee’s strengths and weaknesses while utilizing the motivations and skills of each generation is vital to talent recruitment and retention.
In my experience, I’ve typically been on the younger end of the generational gap, but it has allowed me to get a firsthand look at the vast divide in multigenerational offices. From what I’ve seen, there are three main generations you should prepare to understand before entering the workforce today— Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials.
(Born 1946 – 1964, 53-70 years old)
Best Work Traits: Intrinsically motivated, competitive, strong work ethic, optimistic
Desired Workplace: Baby Boomers prefer a hierarchical culture including a loyal employer, job security and respect.
Motivators: Baby Boomers are motivated by chances to leverage their optimism and collaborative opportunities where their suggestions and experience can be used, giving them an overall sense of achievement.
Earn their Loyalty: Publicly honoring their experience and dedication to the company and work helps show this generation of employees the impact their work has had over time.
Preferred Communication Style: Face-to-Face or Telephone
Pro Tip: Encourage Baby Boomer employees to take part in team-building exercises and consider involving them in a mentor program as a way to honor their experience and help them leave a legacy.
(Born 1965 – 1979, 37-52 years old)
Best Work Traits: Independent, innovative, strong communicators, self-reliant
Desired Workplace: Gen Xers prefer autonomous work surrounded by competent colleagues who enjoy problem-solving opportunities as much as they do. Gen Xers seek out trustworthy employers who are willing to invest in corporate training and offer a sense of security.
Motivators: Gen Xers feed off being assigned meaningful tasks to complete individually. When given credit for their work, they’re more likely to engage in their critical thinking skills in the future.
Earn their Loyalty: Due to their autonomous nature, Gen Xers do not like being micro-managed and prefer to be assigned frequent high-level projects. As a coworker and leader, if you practice what you preach, you can expect to have a loyal Gen X employee for life.
Preferred Communication Style: Email and Telephone
Pro Tip: Let Gen X’s productivity levels grow by providing opportunities. Since Gen Xers grew up without easily accessible computers, find out what technology they’re struggling with and offer assistance or training. You can also implement “brain-writing.” Professors Leigh Thompson and Loran Nordgren at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management suggest using “brain-writing” in place of brainstorming during meetings. This happens when the group writes down individual ideas first, then systematically discusses them as a larger group. (Studies found brain-writing groups generated 20% more ideas and 42% more original ideas than a traditional brainstorming group!)
Millennials (Gen Y)
(Born 1980 – 1995, 21-36 years old)
Best Work Traits: Tech-savvy, collaborative, focused on the greater good
Desired Workplace: Millennials are very focused on choosing a culture-oriented workplace. They search for an empathetic employer who will be flexible while still offering meaningful work and training for new skills to better them as a professional.
Motivators: Match millennials with inspiring leaders who help make connections between an employee’s responsibility with their personal goals. Reward millennials with immediate feedback and provide reinforcement alongside the chance to present their successes— you’ll be very happy with the outcome.
Earn their Loyalty: Gen Y loves to be connected to their peers and coworkers. Make sure to ask their opinion, involve them in decisions, and get to know their interests and goals. By explaining how their work adds value to the business, you’ll keep them determined to advance their company’s goals.
Preferred Communication Style: Text and IMs
Pro Tip: Boost millennial confidence with additional learning or advancement opportunities, providing flexible or work-from-home opportunities, and out-of-office networking events.
How would your workplace be different if you embraced the diversity and celebrated the strengths of your multigenerational workers?