Managin Different GenerationsLargely due to an overcrowding and over-saturation of markets, as well as ever-evolving technological advancement, the American workforce finds itself faced with an unprecedented scenario: four generations occupying the same shifting workplace.

The business owners and managers of today are often forced to make important decisions regarding office flow and dynamics without precedent or guidelines. The end result? Lack of cohesion between older generations and millennial employees make progress difficult, and sometimes impossible. And now, with Generation Z on the horizon, the need for strategies to fuse multiple age groups into a functional team is greater than ever before.

According to Jim Schug, engagement manager at FMI, who presented to attendees of CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017, companies need to develop and implement solutions for mending the rifts currently showing in many workplaces today.

The Problem

The differing attitudes and perspectives of various generations come from countless sources. Foremost among them, however, is historical events. Baby boomers, for example, come from the Silent World War II Generation, one which fostered a culture centered around pride in work. As a result, for the baby boomer generation, motivation is often derived from duty and respect for the work.

Millennials, conversely, grew up right after the credit boom of the 1980s and lived through the housing market collapse of the mid-2000s. Therefore, financial security motivates millennials far more than it does previous generations, making bonuses and raises more important. While it’s important to recognize these broad generalizations don’t always prove true, they can provide useful context when discovering how to motivate and manage different employees.

Perception plays a significant role in generational office dynamics. For example, how one employee thinks about millennials impacts his or her behavior in the office far more than any impactful interactions they’ve had with people that age. And, according to Schug, millennials perceive themselves far differently than others perceive them. So, as standards change between different generations, precise and consistent communication is the only real solution for equalizing different expectations.

Viable Solutions

Potential solutions come in a variety of forms. Certain companies organize team-building exercises and hold cross-gender or cross-generational training to help address the divide. According to Schug, learning about various coaching styles and how to potentially apply them to different scenarios is recommended. While baby boomers may respond better to an authoritarian style, millennials could potentially resonate greater with a peacemaker style. The key, however, is to remain flexible and be capable of switching styles to suit different employees.

The ultimate goal is to utilize each generation for its strengths, versus applying blanket requirements across several generations. And by simply even understanding that baby boomers prefer unbroken, concentrated desk work, while millennials tend to do better with social media management and project collaboration, managers can improve – and even maximize – office output.

This leads to utilizing each generation for their strengths, as opposed to applying blanket requirements across 60 years of difference. By understanding that baby boomers do better with unbroken, concentrated desk work, for example, while millennials tend to do better with social media managing and project collaboration, managers can maximize an office’s output.

Tips and Techniques to Use

There’s no overstating the impact this problem is having on companies of all types and sizes, so many different ideas exist regarding how to foster healthy communication and collaboration between different generations.

WSJ recommends the following:

  • Offering additional training for managers on generational differences
  • Promoting mentorships, allowing older generations to help shape younger ones
  • Opening up office procedures to allow the free flow of information to all employees
  • Using positive reinforcement to clarify what is and isn’t expected of employees
  • Offering all employees the ability to give feedback and share opinions

While many of these might sound obvious or easy, their successful implementation is vital. In addition, they take serious effort and considerable time to yield desired results, meaning they must be pushed with both intent and commitment.

The Takeaway

It’s all about being able to adjust one’s managerial style by person to optimize results. And more important than age group or generational labels is becoming familiar with all employees on a personal level, as doing so provides the straightest path to successful managing.

What makes each employee tick, and what drives them to come into the office every day, may not be obvious at first. Only through time and genuine effort can the path to their motivation be truly discovered.

The generations tend to all operate a little differently and there are possible steps to remedy that; but at the end of the day, no healing or cohesion will occur with each employee being seen and valued as a human being.

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