Engaging Five Generations in the 21st Century Workplace
Today’s workforce is the first in history to include workers from five different generations. While this adds welcome diversity, it also poses some significant challenges for keeping workers engaged and on board.
A recent Ernst & Young survey shows that 75 percent of managers find it challenging to manage intergenerational teams and 77 percent reported that the different work expectations of each generation is a key challenge.
Consider the general mindset of each group toward office meetings as an illustration of this challenge:
Traditionalists (born prior to 1946) will typically arrive early and expect a paper agenda.
Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) will expect a PowerPoint presentation and are willing to put in any extra hours required if the meeting runs long.
Generation X (born between 1965 and 1976) employees will prefer to watch a video and expect the meeting to end by 5pm to honor work-life balance boundaries.
Millennials (born between 1977 and 1997) will want the meeting to have a strong purpose, and will use collaborative digital tools to share meeting information and expect others to do the same.
Generation Z (born after 1997) employees will want to call in from a remote location, no matter what the time, because they view the workplace as an anytime-anywhere proposition.
It’s About Motivation
How can employers keep all segments of this diverse workforce engaged? A Harvard Business Review article explains that it is not a matter of trying to get everyone to work in the same way, but about leveraging each group’s strengths and understanding what motivates team members the most.
The author suggests that managers shouldn’t assume they already know how to motivate employees who are older or younger. Instead, it’s important to have individual conversations with workers to determine what they want out of their own professional lives.
Millennial workers, in particular, typically need to feel their input has value and some have very ambitious goals. A Wall Street Journal guide to managing across generations suggests giving these individuals special assignments that are outside of their job descriptions, such as placing them on a task force that’s working to solve a business or workplace problem.
Different Generations, Similar Expectations
While each workforce generation has come from a different era, a report by the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School Executive Development Program suggests that in the workplace, the different generations may have more in common than employers realize, from wanting the business as a whole to succeed to wanting success in their individual careers.
Interestingly, workers from all five generations agree on the characteristics of an ideal business leader:
• Leads by example.
• Is accessible.
• Challenges and holds others accountable.
• Acts as a coach and mentor .
• Helps others see how their roles contribute to the organization.
Despite technology, communication and work style preferences, there are universal attributes that cross generations and can lead to team bonding. Whether it’s the way your employees care about their families or their vision for the team’s success, those common threads can be the beginning of a more cohesive and engaged multi-generational team. This bonding breeds an atmosphere of trust and a valuable level of respect for what each individual brings to the table, no matter what generational group they are in.
Mike Kreiling is a manager with Express Employment Professionals, a staffing agency with offices worldwide, including 21 in Wisconsin.