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Eight ways to manage a multigenerational workforce

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While in conversation with a group of managers recently, we soon started on the topic of Millennials (Generation Y) in the workplace. 

After the initial sighs, the managers lamented they had no idea what to do with Millennials. I listened intently and heard nothing but complaints. It was as if Millennials were this alien race of workers. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, so much emphasis has been placed on Millennials that many employers miss the opportunity to see the gold mine that exists by having five generations of workers in their organizations:– the Silent Generation; Baby Boomers (1945-1963); Generation X (1964-1979); Millennials (1979-1999); and Generation Z (2000-present), the newest generation now entering the workplace.

Why such animosity towards Millennials? Could it be that the other generations are jealous that Millennials were bold enough to ask for working conditions that other generations have only dreamed about? How many of you wish you could spend more time with family and have more flex time? Don’t you wish you were given regular feedback instead of the haphazard annual review which failed to capture your true worth to the company or provide feedback for growth? How many of you were promoted into jobs where you could only hope for training? Don’t you want to know that your life had meaning? Now imagine working for a company that not only paid you well, but filled the need in your soul to make a positive mark in this work. Think carefully about what Millennials are asking for and ask yourself if other generations can benefit from their requests.

As a manager, do not get swept up in the generational stereotypes that focus only on ways the generations are different. Strive to find the common ground and capitalize on the individual skill sets each individual brings to the table. It is dangerous to simply accept the stereotypes of each generation. You are interacting with an individual contributor and understanding that person for who they are and the skill sets they bring to the table is crucial.

Here are seven keys to keep in mind as you manage a multigeneration team.

Create a space for open dialogue.

Make it a priority to create a team culture that encourages open dialogue that will aid in breaking down generational barriers. Preconceived judgments can be easily debunked with a simple conversation.

Set clear expectations.

We live in a time when nothing seems impossible and employees will continually push the boundaries of achievement and up the level of expectations. Set expectations early and reiterate often, so everyone is clear on where they are headed and can be held accountable for their results.

Be flexible.

Regardless of the generation, each employee has different professional and personal needs. Take the time to listen attentively, so you can provide the tools and accommodations to produce a high performing employee. Flexibility in your management style should also be a consideration. Millennials want to collaborate and work with you and see themselves on your level. The Silent Generation and Boomers expect to work for you and know how to exist in an authoritative environment. Gen X does not appreciate a heavy-handed approach to managing and data is still being collected on Gen Z.

Provide specific, regular feedback.

Although Millennials have been categorized as a generation needing more feedback, this technique should not be reserved for them only. Regular, specific, constructive feedback, aimed at helping employees change behaviour and solve problems, should be available to all employees. Engaged employees always thrive better in a culture that is encouraging and nurturing.

Avoid stereotypes.

As the manager, set the tone of your team and steer clear of weak arguments that lump people into categories. There are lazy, entitled, overeager people in every generation, just as there are thoughtful, driven, committed people ready to pay their dues. Look at the individual and get to know them, instead of relying on what studies say about their demographics.

Vary your communication approaches. 

Millennials have been touted as the tech-savvy generation and the Silent Generation is known to prefer face-to-face contact. As a leader, find ways to convey your messages in a tech-savvy and high-touch manner to meet the needs of your team. Be mindful of the preferences and, if you are unsure, ask.

Develop ways to share and transfer knowledge.

Look around your organization and see how many seasoned professionals are eligible to retire in the next three to five years. One organization recently discovered that 50 per cent of their workforce is expected to retire in the next five years and there still was no effective way to capture the decades of knowledge possessed by senior professionals. Allow your team to learn from each other with traditional and reverse mentoring opportunities.

Provide professional development.

Millennials are hungry for different avenues to learn, grow and advance within their organizations. Advancement is not always defined by a vertical move; in fact, lateral moves, opportunities to lead a short-term project/initiative, rotational assignments and access to continuing education are excellent growth and retention strategies.

Karen Hinds helps organizations cultivate and grow the next generation of leaders. She is author of four books, an international speaker and CEO of Workplace Success Group LLC, a boutique talent development firm. Contact her: Karenworkplacesuccess.com

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