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How to manage a multi-generational workforce

Sharon Florentine | Nov. 26, 2015
With multiple generations making up today's workforce, conflicts are bound to arise -- especially as millennials assume management roles. Here's how to take best advantage of the unique characteristics of Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y.

"Communication used to be an art form in the boomer generation -- think letters. It was a means to an end for Gen-Xers -- think e-mails -- and for millennials it's more of a distraction because of the speed of texting, Snapchat, messaging. With chat, text and instant messaging, communication has become more blunt, short and to the point, which can be great for millennials but not for older workers. There has to be much more thoughtful communication," Milgram says.

Incorporating these generational differences into mentoring and training relationships can help smooth over generational differences and make sure each knows where the other is coming from. It's also important to focus on overall strategic expectations and make sure everyone's aligned with the larger goals of the organization, says Schawbel.

Clear expectations

"Regardless of age or generation, executive leadership has to make sure that the emphasis is on what workers are producing and how everyone can contribute to the success of the organization. Creating diverse working groups that are based on a goal, or around a project or an outcome and set clear expectations of what needs to get done and when, but let each figure out how to navigate their differences and strengths to get to the 'how,'" he says.

That's certainly a challenge for executives, but in a way it's a great problem to have, says Deidre Paknad, CEO and co-founder of workforce performance and productivity solutions company Workboard. With multiple generations in the workforce, managers and executives have a much larger set of skills and strengths from which to draw, she says.

"As a leader, you have to encourage each generation, each person, to operate at their own best level. That means understanding and accepting different roles, and then designing a process that incorporates each role. It acknowledges and supports an inclusion culture, but also sets the stage for trust. If we share a common intent to do our individual best, we can trust each other even if we are at different levels -- or in different generations," Paknad says.

Look for opportunities to exploit strengths

"If I had a workforce of people who could communicate with the elegance of a baby boomer, the thoughtfulness of a Gen-Xer, and the speed of a millennial, that would be perfect. But it's something that doesn't exist. So we have to work on getting these groups and these personalities to work together in groups," says Milgram. As Paknad says, identifying strengths in each generation and using them to the best advantage is key -- and there are many opportunities to do so.

Transparency is a great example, she says, and it's something executives and managers strive for but is difficult to achieve. Fortunately, millennials not only understand the need for transparency and open communication, they willingly embrace it, which can be great for an organization, Paknad says.


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