The members of an intergenerational workforce often have dramatically different needs, experiences and communication styles — factors that present a challenge for managers who want to get the best from each person. By finding ways to build relationships and maximize each person's unique abilities, you can create a strong, productive team.
Create an Even Technological Playing Field
Technology is a common sticking point between older and younger employees in an intergenerational workforce. Millennial workers, who grew up with smartphones and social media, are more likely to have a native understanding and an innate sense of how to use each channel or device. This automatically puts technologically inexperienced workers — often, the older people in the office — at a disadvantage.
Narrow the skills gap by providing comprehensive training on all of the devices, apps and websites used by your company and clients. Basic instruction is important, but don't forget to talk about the etiquette and language for each channel. Explaining the difference between formal LinkedIn blogs and informal Facebook posts. or the difference between a private message and a public status update, can save experienced workers from embarrassing faux pas.
Encourage Two-Way Mentoring
The members of an intergenerational workforce have a wealth of knowledge. Older workers have years of practical experience, an understanding of politics and professional communication, and an insider knowledge of the industry. Millennial workers often bring fresh ideas and a knowledge of new tools to increase productivity and innovation; in addition, they aren't burdened by the way things have always been done.
Harness the collective wisdom of your intergenerational workforce with two-way mentoring. Set up a system that facilitates communication and information sharing. A large company might use a structured mentoring program, while a smaller business might opt for more informal partnerships. Encourage mentoring pairs to share information and help each other navigate unfamiliar territory. In the process, you can build stronger team relationships.
Adapt to Generational Differences
Adaptability is a key part of managing an intergenerational workforce. The things that motivate and inspire an entry-level worker might fall flat for an experienced baby boomer. To get the best from your team, spend time observing their reactions. Who responds well to regular feedback? Who blooms under public recognition, and who prefers to work under the radar? Then, meet each person at his comfort level. This is particularly true when it comes to communication — younger workers might be happy to discuss projects and receive feedback using informal texts or instant messages, while an older worker might prefer in-person meetings once a week. When you understand and adjust to the differences between generations, you can make each person feel comfortable and supported, all without reinforcing age-related stereotypes.
An intergenerational workforce presents a managerial challenge, but it also offers unique advantages. When you find ways to harness each person's knowledge and skills, you can build a powerful, high-performing team.
Image courtesy of the frontier project at Flickr.com