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Managing a Multi-Generational Workplace

It was easier being a manager in the "good old days". Managers had a greater amount of authority and life seemed a bit less complicated, at least at work. For starters, there were fewer generations in the workplace. There were the old-timers who knew everything and mostly wanted to be left alone to do their jobs. There was the middle group who wanted to move up. There were the young people who were prepared to do just about anything to stay gainfully employed and learn the business.

Brian W. Pascal
Today, we have at least four distinct generations at work together in the modern workplace. Keeping them all productive and sometimes preventing them from killing each other are major challenges that did not exist in previous years. Any manager who would like to hold onto the job must find a way to not only keep the peace between these diverse groups, but also to help them to be productive and supportive of each other.

We begin by identifying these different generations and what factors drive them to success in their lives and in the workplace. Some define these segments of society as the Veterans, the Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. Many separate the Boomers into late and early sub-sets.

The Veterans or Traditionalists are obviously the oldest set of workers. Many of them grew up during the Depression and the Second World War. Their primary characteristic as workers is their loyalty and what drives them is maintaining what they have and their economic security.

The Boomers are the largest group within the workplace. They have grown up being fairly affluent and having their views considered. They don't mind working hard and like to be complimented, stroked and rewarded. Unfairness and inconsistency usually drives them nuts, especially at work.

Generation X are the children of Boomers and as a result, they are in a bit of rebellion against their parentsí work ethic. They would much rather have fun. As the Nirvana song says "Here I am now, entertain me". Unfortunately this applies at work too, but they thrive in interesting jobs and have absolutely no fear of technology.

Generation Y or the Millennials are the newest entry into the workplace. They will soon make up about forty percent of the workforce. These are the Connected Ones. They live on Facebook and Twitter. They are never truly alone. At work, they love multi-tasking. What really differentiates them from other generations is that they love money and material things.

This in a nutshell is the workplace of today. How do you get them to mesh? It looks impossible but actually it's quite simple. You focus on their strengths and you downplay their weaknesses.

Some positive suggestions include having older workers, the Traditionalists, lead intergenerational teams and serve as coaches and mentors to younger workers. Boomers may be best utilized on special projects that require weekend or overtime work. They don't mind doing it as long as they are thanked and compensated appropriately. Gen Xers might best serve the organization if they aren't just stuck with one role. Give them a series of challenging assignments and a variety of job functions. Millennials work best in teams. If they can work and problem solve this way, their comfort level and productivity will increase.

At the same time, managers should be wary about setting these groups up to fail in the workplace. This could happen by putting together a multi-generational team to come up with a consensus about how to deal with a problem without giving them clear direction about how they should communicate and work with each other. Without that direction, the older workers are often confused and many of the younger workers are just bored. Only the Boomers, who love meetings any time of night or day, would be happy.

Another important factor is how the individual groups want to be acknowledged and rewarded for their achievements at work. Veterans and Boomers may want a bonus and a thank you. The younger generations may want a combination of some money, some time off and a Foosball table for the company lounge. In the long run, how people are acknowledged is much more important than how they may be critiqued.

As todayís managers, it is crucial that we understand these differences and keep them in mind when assigning work and developing compensation schemes. Good luck in managing your multi-generational workplace.


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