Overcoming the challenges of a multigenerational workforce
Today’s workforce is incredibly diverse — especially when it comes to age. Believe it or not, there are five generations present in America’s professional landscape:
- Traditionalists – born in 1945 and before
- Baby Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964
- Generation X – born between 1965 and 1976
- Millennials – born between 1977 and 1995
- Generation Z – born in 1996 and after
As younger generations come of age, older individuals are opting to work longer. While multigenerational workforces present some obstacles to employers, they’re arguably more productive and have less turnover than those without generational diversity. Aaron Raby, leadership development and professional coach, adjunct professor at University of Massachusetts Global and host of the upcoming UMass Global webinar, “Leading Across Generations,” elaborates.
“Leaders need to look at the multigenerational workforce as a benefit rather than a challenge,” Raby says. “From a tactical standpoint, once you have the mindset that it’s a benefit, you pave the way for a healthy discourse, for a diversity in opinions and for a richness in dialogue.”
What types of obstacles does having five generations in today’s workforce present? And how can organizations overcome those challenges? Take a look at what business experts like Raby have to say.
Generational diversity in today’s workforce
Information compiled by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and AARP reveals that Millennials account for approximately 50 percent of the workforce. Meanwhile, the population of people older than 65 is larger than ever. And it’s expected to double in the next 20 to 30 years. While these younger and older employees overlap in the workforce, research reveals they typically want significantly different things from their careers. The former tend to prioritize purpose and personal development while the latter seek security and stability. According to SHRM, challenges can also arise due to differences in communication styles, general work practices, collaboration and expectations from employers.
These differences highlight how creating an environment in which all generations can work together harmoniously can be difficult. In fact, AARP data reveals that 60 percent of workers report the presence of generational conflict in their workplace.
It’s a tall order to address the needs and preferences of so many different groups of employees at once. But fostering a culture of productive collaboration and mutual respect starts from the top down. If your organization hopes to achieve better productivity, engagement and retention with a multigenerational workforce, consider the following three strategies.
3 Ways to cultivate a successful multigenerational workforce
Ignoring the needs of any one group of employees will likely result in lower productivity and job satisfaction. These three tactics can help you ensure all your employees feel valued, empowered and invested in.
1. Prioritize flexibility
One of the core recommendations from the SHRM and AARP data is for organizational leaders and management teams to become adept at understanding what their workers truly want and need. They need to recognize there is no one-size-fits-all solution for each generation or for all employees in general. It’s essential, Raby explains, to be able to adjust.
“A key part of leadership is coming alongside an employee, assessing where they are, and then asking, ‘What do you need from me?’” Raby adds. “It’s going to be different for every employee. Leaders today need to be flexible and have the soft skills that enable them to understand their employees’ needs.”
Providing your workforce with flexibility can also mean implementing certain accommodations for your employees. And keep in mind there will be varying preferences among different groups of employees.
“Managers and HR professionals must accommodate various working styles, because productivity works differently for everyone,” explains Sam Johns, HR specialist and hiring manager for Resume Genius. This might mean offering variable work hours, expanding benefits opportunities or making company communication widely accessible.
2. Dispel generational stereotypes
Every generation is plagued by a slew of myths. Older workers, for example, are said to be less productive, lacking in innovation, resistant to change and generally hard to work with. Conversely, younger workers are alleged to feel entitled, have short attention spans and be noncommittal.
But amidst unfounded stereotypes lies a simple truth: Generations can work in harmony if inaccurate perceptions are corrected.
“If you have a leader who holds assumptions about each generation, they’re going to come to the table and lead their employees in a very specific way,” Raby warns. “What they should do is set those assumptions aside and take not a generational approach, but a human approach to leading their employees.”
Generational stereotypes — whether intended to be positive or negative — will never be productive in the workplace. In discussing her book about the avoiding pitfalls of labels, Jessica Kriegel told Fast Company that using language specific to generations can be off-putting. You risk putting them in a box. When managers buy into generational stereotypes, Kriegel argues that they’re making a snap judgment about what their employee is going to be without getting to know who they really are.
“I would caution a leader from looking at someone and assuming their generation is who they are as a person,” Raby agrees. “It can be a good starting point, but you don’t want to hinge your thoughts of an employee on assumptions that may or may not be true of them.”
3. Encourage cross-collaboration and mutual mentoring
While having employees from multiple generations within one organization may present some challenges, it also offers an opportunity for people with differing perspectives to learn from each other. The traditional chain of command doesn’t have to rule out ideas for less-experienced workers.
“Now we have more of an open-source environment of problem-solving, managing and sharing information,” Raby explains. “Young people have an opportunity to come to the table like no other time in history to offer their solutions to a problem.”
Organizations that are successful today, Raby adds, are those that create open feedback loops for every employee in the organization to participate and collaborate in problem solving and creating solutions. “Leaders need to not only have a willingness to accept a difference of opinion, but they should encourage it.”
Another way to help foster cross-collaboration is to implement mutual mentorship initiatives. Pairing younger workers with older workers to learn from one another in the areas of technology, communication, social media and networking can go a long way.
“In terms of skills, Generation Z and Millennials have grown up alongside the technology we use daily in 2019, which gives them a knack for innovation and ‘making things work’,” Johns says. “Meanwhile, Generation X and Baby Boomers started working prior to such technology, and are more gifted with interpersonal skills that help a company’s teams gel.”
Johns maintains that an effective multigenerational workplace offers unprecedented opportunities to achieve an overall balance of skills and abilities for the greater good of the organization.
Promote a productive multigenerational environment
When employees from varying generations are able to work together, they become more engaged in their work. That can improve productivity as well as morale.
If you hope to cultivate the most engaged and effective multigenerational workforce within your own organization, consider the advice from our experts. You’ll also want to view University of Massachusetts Global's recorded webinar: “Leading Across Generations.”
If you’re fascinated by the various elements that make up the human side of business, you might thrive in a human resources (HR) career. University of Massachusetts Global offers several degree paths that can teach budding HR professionals about managing a multigenerational workforce and so much more. Take a look at the following options:
- Bachelor of Business Administration in Human Resources
- Master of Science in Human Resources
- Master of Business Administration in Human Resources
- Graduate Certificate in Human Resources