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  • Writer's pictureSherri Elliott-Yeary

How to Manage Different Generations

Leaders are increasingly grappling with generational differences in their work forces. Problems can arise from differing mindsets and communication styles of workers born in different eras and cultures.

The frictions may be aggravated by new technology and work patterns that mix workers of different ages in ever changing times.

Baby Boomers born between 1945 and 1964, are competitive and think workers should “pay their dues” but typically Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1980, are more likely to be skeptical and independent minded. Millennials – also known as Gen Y were born in 1983 to 2000 prefer more teamwork, feedback, and access to state of the art technology.

Feedback: The key is to be able to effectively address and take advantage of the differences in values and expectations of each generation. Managers and leaders must be careful not to follow blanket stereotypes and understand the difference between Generational DNA – year of birth and an employee’s Generational Personality, which is based on several factors such as culture, life events and where they were raised from a global perspective. Each generation is different, not simply good or bad. It is our role as leaders to identify these differences and develop strategies to maximize the differences into a competitive advantage.

Here are some strategies: • Educate your leaders by offering generational training and education so they are equipped with tools and strategies to adapt. It is important that managers change first rather than trying to change their staff. • Facilitate mentoring between different generations to encourage more cross-generational interaction. Younger employees should learn to seek the experience and wisdom offered by your organizations “knowledge workers” also known as the Baby Boomers and Traditionalists. Your knowledge workers should also show interest and be open to gaining a fresher perspective offered by the younger generations in your workplace. • Offer different working options like telecommuting and working offsite. Focus on the results employees produce rather than on HOW & WHERE they get their job done. This will give employees some flexibility on how they want to work and put everyone, regardless of where they spend most of their time working, on the same scale to measure success. Telecommuting can also encourage Boomers nearing retirement to stay on as an employee longer and perhaps share their knowledge with the next generation of workers. • Accommodate different learning styles. Baby Boomers may favor more traditional and static learning methods like PowerPoint presentations and handouts, while younger workers tend to gravitate towards more interactive, technology-based forms of learning. • Keep employees engaged. Provide regular educational and training opportunities as well as advice to keep all workers interested in your organization. Fuel the high expectations of ambitious Millennials with special assignments that are outside of their normal job duties. Consider putting them on a task force to solve a problem or establishing a regular presence on social networking sites for the organization. • Open up the office. Millennials generally don’t work well under rigid management structure. They prefer open collaborations that allow employees to share information and for everyone to have the opportunity to contribute and learn from each other. The idea is to take advantage of the Millennial’s preference for teamwork and to encourage more solidarity throughout the workplace. • Toss the routines, millennials and Gen Xers dislike the formality of regular meetings, especially when there is nothing to discuss. Limit face-t-face meetings to when there is only a real need. • Create recognition programs, even simple gestures like a pat on the proverbial back or a positive email congratulations can help boost productivity with Gen Xers. While Boomers may seek status, they may respond more positively to an office-wide memo r email that announces that they are meeting or exceeding their goals. Millennials may seek validation and approval on a more consistent basis daily rather than a public display of appreciation. • Accommodate personal employee needs. Different generations of employees will be different stages of life and may require employer’s offer some scheduling flexibility to manage their personal lives. Boomers who are thinking of retirement, for example, may want to cut the number of hours they work in exchange for reduced pay. Gen Xers who need to leave work early to attend parent/teacher functions can agree to make up lost time at a later date or in the evening since they have access to technology. Support Millennials who may want to pursue another degree part time and extend the same educational opportunities. • Give all employees a voice. Regardless of age and tenure, give all employees a forum in which to present ideas, concerns, and complaints. Leaders should facilitate pen communication throughout the office and set aside time to provide honest feedback. • Don’t apply a blanket communication-method policy. Boomers may prefer to communicate by phone or in person. Millennials grew up being in constant communication with peers and coworkers so are accustomed to emailing, texting or sending instant messages. • Don’t confuse character issues like immaturity, or laziness with generational traits. Whereas Boomers may see a 60 hour work week as a prerequisite to achieving success, many hard working Millennials may prefer a more balanced life that includes reasonable working hours-with occasional bouts of over-time and weekends off. The latter may also voluntarily choose to makeup time in unstructured settings like working at a Starbucks on weekends to accomplish their essential job duties. As long as the work is done in a manner that meets both your internal and external customer objectives, you will have a head start on developing a diverse workforce of the future. TIPS: • Accommodate different learning styles. • Consider personal employee needs, such as flexibility with scheduling. • Don’t confuse character problems like immaturity r laziness with generational traits. • Be careful not to follow blanket stereotypes. • Reward and Communicate in a manner that makes an impact to your audience not how you like to communicate!

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