For the first time in modern history, five generations of employees are working shoulder to shoulder in American offices. While this represents a great opportunity for organizations, the situation is not without risks. Reports hint that intergenerational tensions are mounting, and companies must create harmonious work environments that accommodate a wide range of employee wants and needs if they hope to keep the peace.
The multigenerational composition of the workforce is unlikely to change any time soon. As revealed by a recent report from TD Ameritrade, more and more workers are choosing “unretirement.” According to the survey, 31 percent of American workers plan on holding some kind of job in retirement, and more than half of these unretirees plan to work until the ends of their lives. As long as increasing numbers of workers are choosing to stay in the workforce, multigenerational workplaces will be the norm.
Who Are Today’s Workers?
Taking a close look at the current workforce DNA, we find five distinct generations of talent at work:
1. Traditionalists (born before 1946): Traditionalists currently make up roughly 2 percent of the workforce. Loyalty to their companies tends to be a defining trait of workers from this generation.
2. Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964): Resourceful and striving, this generation tends to equate work (and position within the workforce) with self-value. Baby boomers currently account for about a quarter of the workforce.
3. Generation X (born 1965-1980): Focused on finding true work/life balance, Gen. X-ers value freedom, responsibility, and autonomy. They make up about a third of the workforce.
4. Millennials (born 1981-1996): Currently the largest generation in the workforce, millennials may account for more than half of all workers within the next decade. They thrive on recognition and value flexibility.
5. Generation Z (born after 1996): The first fully digital generation, the first Gen. Z-ers are now starting to enter the workplace. Accounting for 5 percent of the workforce, they bring new ideas and expectations, and they love a workplace that values human connection with a tech twist.
Presently, so much emphasis is placed on millennials that many employers overlook the opportunities that exist when you have five generations of workers in the same office — much to their own detriment.
Managing the Many Needs of a Multigenerational Workforce
So, how can organizations successfully manage teams of individuals with varying needs and desires? How can you build a thriving multigenerational workforce with a wide range of valuable skill sets?
Here’s how employers can drive performance and cultivate innovation while embracing the broad needs of today’s workers:
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1. Understand That Generational Nuances Matter
Each of your employees is working to help the company achieve its goals, but your workers are at various stages of their careers and lives. While differences in experiences and perspectives matter, you shouldn’t dwell on them or feed into stereotypes. Remember, regardless of their generational differences, your employees have a lot in common. The key is to support employees where they are without drawing arbitrary lines between them based on generational distinctions.
No matter their age or professional history, everyone wants to be acknowledged, included, respected, and invested in. Companies must remember this when dealing with their team members on all fronts.
2. Embrace Knowledge Transfer
Because of the diversity of a multigenerational work environment, every team member has the opportunity to gain insight, perspective, and knowledge from their coworkers — provided they’re open to it. It is imperative to create a culture of constant teaching and learning so that employees share their vital skills and ideas with one another.
Research shows that peer learning can be a powerful tool in helping employees enhance their skill sets. A survey from Degreed found team members are the second-leading source of learning for employees. When workers need to know something new, 69 percent will ask their boss or mentor and 55 percent will ask their colleagues.
3. Make Cross-Generational Mentorship a Priority
Strong leaders can make the most of their multigenerational workforces by encouraging and establishing cross-generational mentoring programs. The members of each generation can share their specific skill sets with the members of other generations, allowing for a more fully developed workforce all around.
For example, Gen. Z-ers could train other generations on new digital tools and processes, while baby boomers could mentor younger workers on the kinds of interpersonal communication skills that some believe have been lost in the digital age. In addition to being a powerful method of employee development, such cross-generational mentoring also encourages mutual trust and respect between workers of different age groups.
4. Flex on Flexibility
It’s important to not only accommodate but validate the preferences of your multigenerational workforce — especially when it comes to work hours and work styles. In part because they are at different stages of their lives, your workers will have different scheduling needs. Millennials may be seeking balance, baby boomers may be caring for aging parents, and Gen. X-ers may be looking to start and spend more time with their families.
For this reason, flexibility is key for a multigenerational workforce. Whenever possible, give your workers control over how and when they work. That way, each of your employees can set themselves up for success, regardless of their work preferences.
As the demand for highly skilled talent grows, the abilities and insights of workers of all ages have become paramount to company success. A multigenerational workforce creates a competitive advantage, provided a company knows how to support the wide range of skills and knowledge its workers have to offer. Employees can also learn from one another while leveraging each other’s unique strengths, ultimately leading to increased productivity, collaboration, and engagement.
Teresa Hopke is CEO of Talking Talent.
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Teresa Hopke is CEO of Talking Talent.