Modern managers are often faced with the difficult task of combining baby boomers and millenials into an effective multi-generational workforce. Because the two groups often have different priorities and working styles, it can be a challenge to create a cohesive unit.
Baby boomers, people who were born between 1946 and 1964, grew up in the decades following World War II. They often followed a linear pattern in terms of career and personal development. In terms of their professional lives, they tend to respect managers and prefer clear boundaries in the workplace. In general, people from this generation were not born into technology, though they may have adopted it along the way.
The term "millenials" is generally used to describe workers who were born between 1976 and 2001. Unlike their parents' and grandparents' generations, millenials have been raised with a more organic, flowing understanding of careers and offices. Because they have grown up with the wealth of information available on the Internet, they don't necessarily look to their supervisors and employers for career direction and industry information. These generational differences create two key hurdles that must be overcome to foster an effective multi-generational workforce.
One of the most obvious challenges of combining these very different groups into a multi-generational workforce is their relative comfort with technology. Millenials, who have spent a significant portion of their lives using smart phones and social media, tend to be more comfortable integrating new systems into their workflow. They communicate freely across multiple channels without skipping a beat. New digital tools are not usually intimidating to millenials because they can employ their existing technological skill sets to come up to speed quickly; in fact, they expect technology to change on a regular basis. The boomer generation, on the other hand, may need more time to get used to new tools. They do not always take to conversations that happen across a number of platforms, which can make it difficult for them to connect with younger workers. As a manager of a multi-generational workforce, you must establish specific systems and enable ample prep time to accommodate all workers.
People tend to make communication choices based on their backgrounds. When your multi-generational workforce contains people with dramatic generational differences, it can present significant communication difficulties. Older workers are often more comfortable speaking one-on-one or on the phone. Email, which came on the scene later in the boomer generation's careers, is often acceptable but not preferred. Millenials often communicate in a dramatically different way. A discussion might start in a text message, continue with a shared item on Pinterest and finish in a Facebook chat session — all without a single phone call or in-person interaction. The challenge for a manager of a multi-generational workforce is to designate the channels that are acceptable in the office environment and ensure that each person uses each channel appropriately.
Managing a multi-generational workforce can be difficult, but the rewards are worth the effort. By combining people from different backgrounds, you have access to a wealth of knowledge and experience that can lead to powerful and profitable business solutions.
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