Conquering Generational Differences in the Workplace

Julie Shenkman
Posted by in Human Resources

Many modern offices are populated with three different generations, a situation that presents employers with both benefits and challenges. For managers, generational differences require a flexible and adaptable strategy. By planning a workflow that takes into consideration each person's strengths and weaknesses, you can create a powerful, cohesive team.

In many companies, there can be as many as four generations working alongside each other at the same time: traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and millenials. The gap between traditionalists, who were born before 1945, and millenials, who were born in 1981 or later, is considerable. Traditionalists grew up in the post-World War II era, while millenials grew up with computers and the Internet.

The generational differences between young and old workers can be difficult to overcome. Technology is often a sticking point. Millenials, who have been using smartphones and computers for years, are generally more comfortable integrating new devices and programs into their workflows. Older workers often take longer to learn new technology skills; as a result, they may be defensive or resistant to the process. For a manager of a multi-generational workplace, it is crucial to manage technology with finesse and sensitivity. Advance notice and longer training periods can give all of your workers the time they need to get comfortable with each new device or software.

Worker engagement can be another of the most difficult generational differences for managers to handle. Gallup research shows that each generation engages differently. Traditionalists tend to be the most engaged. Baby Boomers react well to managers who demonstrate that they care about their workers. Generation X and millennial employees prefer that bosses give them opportunities for professional development. Millenials also work well with regular feedback about individual performance. All groups respond well to supervisors that enable employees to work to their strengths. By tailoring your managerial styles to suit the generational differences of your employees, you can be more effective at running a multi-generational workplace.

In many companies, highly educated millenials are quickly promoted, leaving older workers feeling like they are being left in the dust. Research shows that the more emphasis you place on generational differences, the harder it is for employees to work together without conflict. While it is impossible to erase the differences — after all, they are usually rooted in the way each generation was raised — you can make them less of an issue by treating your employees with equal respect. Aim to offer promotion opportunities to each group and give everyone a chance to shine. When all of your employees feel capable and confident in their positions, you can create a positive atmosphere.

Overcoming generational differences in the workplace is a challenging and ongoing process. By educating yourself about the unique challenges and backgrounds of each generation, you can develop a more effective managerial style.


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