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Peer to Peer: Embracing generational differences in the workforce

How can we lead in harmony with all five generations of people in today’s workforce?
From left, JoAnne Ward, Robert Murray, Cissy Pau

How can we lead in harmony with all five generations of people in today’s workforce?

ROBERT MURRAY | Principal, Robert Murray Consulting

Being a leader means adapting to change.
Back in the day, Baby Boomer leaders (1946 to 1964) had a group of employees that were married to their jobs, had a predictable set of expectations, and only wanted to work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Then things started to change.
Generation X (1965 to 1980) entered the workplace, and they were driven, individualistic and not committed to any specific career. We can thank Gen X for the 12-hour workday!
Then, not too long after, enter the Millennials (1981 to 1995). This group grew up with omnipresent parents and don’t know a world without computers. They lack delineation between work and personal lives (they see working in the office and still being on social media just as normal as doing work related projects and email during their “own time”). And, they want flexibility in virtually everything.
Now, we add in Generation Z (1995 to 2010). They are savvy, know exactly what they want and are demanding it right from the start — yes, including your corner office.
So, as a leader, how do you maintain sanity in the workplace, build a high performance culture, satisfy customers and grow profitably?
The answer is simple. Here is my quick five-step approach to working in harmony with up to four different generations:

1.  Let go of any prejudice you may have about the behaviour of a certain generation. Embrace the difference. Learn the value each generation brings.

2.  Make it a daily habit to ensure that everyone understands your vision and strategies. Make them understand your why – it will help them understand their purpose.

3.  Ensure that everyone clearly understands their individual role and responsibility.

4.  Turn goals and objectives into a game, with a scoreboard and outcome if they win.

5.  Communicate often through multiple media, because all five generations all consume their information in different ways.

CISSY PAU | Principal consultant, Clear HR Consulting Inc.

Leaders require great adaptability to balance the diverse interests of the various generations of employees at work. “One-size-fits-all” management approaches, where all employees are treated the same, will no longer work, especially if you want to attract and retain the best employees.

To create harmony when managing multiple generations, we need to find the commonalities between generations. Some overall strategies to engage all employees, regardless of their generation, include:

1. Communicate the big picture – the “why”

Focus on communicating what the organization wants to achieve. What is the organization’s bigger purpose? Why does it exist?

2. Ensure employees understand their part in making the organization successful

Regardless of position level, all employees want to know that they are making a difference. This requires not just having good job descriptions and setting clear goals and expectations, but also explaining how the role adds value in the organization.

3. Tap into the unique wants, needs and desires of all staff

Effective managers learn what is unique about each of their employees, finds the strengths within those unique traits, and uses those strengths to both the employee’s and the organization’s advantage. The challenge is less about broad brushing the different generations, and more about managing different individuals. 

4. Provide & ask for continuous feedback

Let employees know where they stand by giving frequent feedback. A once-a-year performance review won’t do. Also, show your employees you value their opinions by asking them for suggestions on a regular basis.

Will committing to these strategies ensure a harmonious and cohesive multi-generational workplace? There’s no guarantee. But not taking these steps will guarantee dissatisfied employees and higher turnover. In this market, companies can’t afford that risk.

JOANNE WARD | Founder, Systems for Engaging Teams

Within a few years, more than 50% of the workforce will be comprised of young people under the age of 35. Baby Boomers plan to work well into their 70s and will be a buying force in the market for decades.

In today’s workforce spanning five generations, values, ambition, views, mindsets, skills, demographics and generations are in conflict. This is a breeding ground for tension and unnecessary conflict. Yet, it is also an opportunity to demand a new way of thinking about leadership, recruiting the best talent, and the function of human resources.

Organizations with a clear vision and values know whom they want to attract and recruit. But, employee loyalty to a job or company is gone. Millennials may stay only one to two years if you’re lucky, while others may stay as long as five years. Commitment to taking action quickly is required in all leadership areas. Change is complex and some of strategies that will lead us through involve these concerns:

Creating Effective Leaders and Teams: Collaboration, understanding and working towards a common goal can be taught, but there is a process for it. Along with enhancing the ability to solve problems quickly, leaders must also inspire, encourage and lead their people towards “faster.”

Learning and Development: Learn and respect the differences between the generations to make decisions and changes more effectively. Recruitment systems and ongoing training will demonstrate dedication to your people and its culture. Giving recruits the big picture and how they will fit in now and in the future is mandatory.

Culture and Engagement: Employees need to feel they are making a contribution and be recognized for it. Flexibility, authenticity and different forms of recognition for high performance are key to an engaged workplace.

Ask The Experts is curated by Business in Vancouver editorial staff. Do you have a question you want answered or are willing to volunteer your own expertise? Email Tyler Orton at [email protected]