With a notable number of Baby Boomers feeling like they should postpone retirement, you may have a multigenerational team with as many as four (or even five) different generations represented in your organization.
Studies have shown that Baby Boomers ranging in age from 58 to 76, Gen X-ers who are 42 to 57 years old, Millennials somewhere between ages 25 and 41 and Gen Z individuals born close to 2000/Y2K are likely to have distinctly different perspectives and attitudes on everything from authority to work culture to work-life balance to career goals.
On top of each individual in the workplace having his or her own unique values, life experiences, work styles and motivations, in a multigenerational team, the differences between co-workers can become more complicated if there are significant age gaps. This can lead to misunderstandings that hurt productivity and job performance.
To successfully manage multigenerational teams, your managers need to foster a culture where your co-workers’ differences are treated like learning opportunities, and employees mutually respect and appreciate each other’s knowledge and work habits – which may be influenced by the time period when they grew up and entered the workforce.
Keys to managing multigenerational teams
To help build an age-diverse culture, a good place to start coaching your managers is eliminating harmful generational stereotyping. For example, not all older workers are slow to pick up new methods and technology. And because Baby Boomers and Millennials represent especially large populations of people, it’s unwise to assume people of a certain generational group all think the same way.
A National Institutes of Health study found that “employees threatened by age-based stereotypes concerning work performance are less able to commit to their current job, less oriented toward long-term professional goals and are ultimately less adjusted psychologically.”
That’s why it’s important that your managers develop habits of:
- not making assumptions based on someone’s age
- finding commonalities between co-workers of different generations, and
- managing their people based on their strengths.
Managers also need to be aware that members of multigenerational teams may have very different personal preferences, and they should encourage open communication of those preferences. That information can lead to more efficient and productive workflows.
For instance, if a manager has both older and younger workers, he or she should find out if they’re most comfortable with a phone call or email, text message or face-to-face interaction. The same goes for how productive they feel with a flexible work schedule vs. a 9-to-5. (For various reasons, some prefer the 9-to-5 structure.)
Perhaps the trickiest part of managing a multigenerational team is encouraging co-workers to respect each other’s boundaries in the name of psychological safety. Workplace discussions about topics like gender roles, race relations and mental health are becoming more common. But because they were previously taboo in a professional setting, it’s important to recognize that people have different levels of willingness to openly talk about these issues. There could also be differences of opinion across generational lines.
Managers may provide opportunities to have discussions about challenging topics, but to promote an environment where people can bring their best ideas and ask for help, ensuring that everyone feels psychologically safe at work is paramount. That’s why it’s crucial to keep the conversations grounded in how the issues relate to your company’s values and mission and not make anyone feel like they have to have a particular point of view on an issue.
Putting it into practice
Because the goal is to have an open dialogue among your multigenerational team, it’s vital that your managers strive to be inclusive in meeting settings. That means ensuring that as many voices as possible get heard and considered.
Even if someone has less experience, their perspective can still be valuable. So to prevent a meeting leader from becoming frustrated with an outspoken younger colleague, they should be coached to give the person space to respectfully demonstrate their point, then ask questions and encourage others to weigh in.
Also, if a younger team member starts making assumptions about a more seasoned colleague, they need a gentle reminder that it’s different experiences and points of view that lead to new insights that drive organizations to make better decisions and take worthwhile risks. Think of some real-life examples where this has happened.
AARP found that just 8% of CEOs include age in their company’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Could there be any unconscious age biases in your recruitment processes? It may be a good time to huddle up with HR and conduct an audit. Artificial intelligence software can be used to screen for age-biased language in job postings, such as “digital ninja” or “at least six years of experience required.”
Some follow-up training on identifying age biases may be necessary for your recruiters/hiring managers for more positive and inclusive interactions with job candidates, which can contribute to age diversity.
Another idea to collaborate with HR on: Develop initiatives that encourage both older and younger generations to connect and share their expertise, such as mutual mentoring programs.