Managing Five Generations at Work | Business LockerRoom

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By John Spence | Guest Posts

Jan 20

Managing Five Generations at Work

by John Spence

Thanks to amazing advances in healthcare people can expect to live longer than ever before. The average life expectancy for an adult in 1915 was about 50 years, today it is closer to 80 and the predicted life expectancy for a baby born in 2015 is more than 100 years old. That means that for the first time in history we will be working in organizations where the employees span five different generations.

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The advantages to having a wide array of experiences, expertise and viewpoints can be immense for organizations that can manage these generations effectively, for those that cannot the downside can be devastating.

So how do you successfully navigate the challenge of integrating such a diverse generational workforce?

Emphasize Common Beliefs
Instead of constantly harping on the difference between the generations, work hard to find common ground. Regardless of their age, every one of these generations share a belief in family, doing quality work, making a difference in the world, and contributing to society. Yes, they come at these beliefs from different angles, but there is still a strong foundation of shared values.

Force Collaboration
Do not allow the different generations to create cliques among themselves, excluding the other generations. Put people from different generations on the same team, assign a boomer and a millennial to work together as partners. Create situations where they have to work together so they can learn to respect and embrace each other’s attitudes and work styles.

Require Mentoring
Create a formal program where people from the older generations serve as mentors to some of the younger employees. Let the older folks show them the ropes, give them advice and benefit from their many years of experience. The younger employees will gain important knowledge from their elders and appreciate the unique value they can offer.

Create a “Reverse Mentoring” Program
This is a technique I’ve used in several client companies, assigning brand-new employees to mentor the older employees in technology and current trends. This helps the older employees understand the tremendous amount of information and skills that the younger generations have and create respect for their technological savvy.

Treat the Different Generations Differently
Although there might be a shared foundation of core values, each of these generations has a significantly different view on career and life. Study your employees carefully and build programs and incentives to reward each generation with what they value most. Boomers tend to value position, title and salary, whereas Millennials value time with their family and friends, flexibility, personal growth and making a difference in the world. Trying to please all of the different generations with the same sort of rewards and motivation will not work.

Create a Formal Training Program
The problem isn’t having five generations in the same organization, it’s the tensions that arise from the generations not understanding each other. Much like going to a training class on social styles can strongly impact how a team works together, training your employees on the differences between the generations and how to have empathy and understanding for the work styles and lifestyles each generation pursues, can help them better understand each other and get along more effectively.

Resistance Is Futile

One last piece of advice, attempting to ignore or refuse to deal with the generational differences is a recipe for disaster.

I was recently working in a large organization and had a senior manager tell me the younger employees would just have to learn to do things the way he wanted them done. I told him this basically meant unemployment for him or bankruptcy for the company. In five years Millennials will make up the bulk of the workforce and attempting to make them conform to the “way we’ve always done it around here” is not an effective strategy.

Success in the future means integrating five very different generations into one cohesive team. This will be a great challenge for many managers and organizations.

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About the Author

John Spence is recognized as one of the top 100 business thought leaders and as one of the top 500 leadership development experts in the world. He is an international keynote speaker and management consultant and has written five books on business and life success. For more information, visit www.johnspence.com.