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Strategies to build generational bridges in the workforce

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My previous blog post discussed the inherent differences in out multi-generational workforces. Following on from that, here are some practical suggestions to assist people managers to manage the expectations of everyone in the team.

1.  People all of all generations want to be respected.  

Everyone has different strengths to bring to the table, whether it’s years of real-world experience and accumulated corporate knowledge, a fresh young mind and novel approach to problem-solving or an amazing proficiency with the next big thing in social media.  

Promote a culture of active listening and discourage employees from generation-bashing eg: ‘I see Dad’s Army are manning the security desk again this morning!’ or ‘Have you seen the new intern in the accounts department? A flock of seagulls could be nesting in those dreadlocks!’

2. Be clear about expectations and career advancement opportunities within your organisation right from the start. 

Realistic information at recruitment fairs and job interviews, as well as ‘onboarding’ and induction programs can help to manage the high expectations of young people when they join the workforce. Remember they are often highly qualified and recognise that there can be blockages at the top as older generations remain in the workforce and this tension may need to be managed. The fact that globally this generation is highly qualified and it is a very competitive recruitment market means that young people need to distinguish themselves in the job market through experience. Exposing them to different experiences or projects (not necessarily promotion) can be a way to manage everyone’s expectations in the workplace.

3.  Emphasise shared goals but be flexible about the best way to reach them.  

Nobody likes being micro-managed and different generations may approach their work in a variety of ways. Gen Y are often exceptional multi-taskers, Gen X may prefer to work autonomously and some Boomers may be more comfortable working collaboratively. However, there are many roads to a shared destination. Be flexible. Encourage staff to communicate openly and to celebrate their creativity and diversity.

4.  Encourage inter-generational mentoring

Not everyone will feel at ease sitting in a classroom (particularly a computer training room) but everybody likes to learn new skills and feel valued by their employer. Consider offering a ‘skills exchange’ program where, for example, Boomers pair up with Gen Y to swap advice about leadership skills for help using new technologies.

5.  Leaders need to be authentic, trustworthy and motivating.  

Different generations may have different expectations about leadership but everyone wants to be able to trust and respect the ‘commander-in- chief’. The best leaders have a broad range of leadership styles and have the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances and different audiences.

6.  Encourage a healthy work-life balance for all age groups.

To retain valuable staff of all age groups for longer, ask people what they need in terms of a reasonable balance and as long as it doesn’t interfere with organisational goals or performance, try to accommodate it wherever possible.

7.  Change is hard on everyone.  

There is a widespread perception that older people are more resistant to change and that young people embrace it. However, research shows that the acceptance or rejection of change has far more to do with the perceived costs and benefits of that change than the age demographics of employees.

8.  Give constructive feedback and encourage life-long learning. 

Everybody likes to know how well they’re performing and feel that they have the skills to do their job well.  Research conducted by the Hay Group found that all generations cited ‘exciting and challenging work’ as the main reason for staying with their current employer. Give staff opportunities to keep growing and developing their skill sets and knowledge base, whatever their age.

9.  All generations have similar core values but they may express them differently.  

While people of different age groups may at times seem worlds apart in terms of interests and capabilities, when it comes to what really matters most, all generations put family at the top of their list. Other top values shared across the generational divide include: achievement, competence, happiness integrity, love, self-respect, responsibility and wisdom.

10.  Loyalty is about the context, not the age of your employees.  

There has been a lot written in recent times about younger generations being less loyal employees than older ones. However, research has found that number of hours worked by employees related more to the level of seniority within an organisation rather than age demographics, ie the greater the level of responsibility, the more hours worked.

If you would like to know more about human resource management, conflict resolution or leadership training opportunities for your organisation, please contact us.

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