Multi-generational workplaces

Are you daunted by the thought of managing up to four different generations in one place? The rise of multi-generational workplaces is now fact rather than fiction.

Workplace demographics continue to shift as birth rates in the UK lower, life expectancy increases and more of us stay in work beyond traditional retirement ages: 2007 saw the number of over 60’s exceed the number of under 16’s for the first time in history; the number of working pensioners in the UK increased by 85% from 753,000 in 1993 to 1.4 million in 2011; over 30% of people in employment in the UK are now over the age of 50.

Our tendency to want to compartmentalise people of different ages into homogenous groups has led to the labelling of staff in multi-generational workplaces as: Traditionalists (1920’s to 1940’s), Baby Boomers (1940’s to 1960’s), Generation X’s (1960’s to 1980’s), Generation Y’s or Millenials (1980’s to 00’s) and, more recently, Generation Z’s (1990’s to beyond the 00’s). Each category receives much discussion and debate regarding dominant characteristics, likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. However, the challenge for owner managers and business leaders is to move beyond such stereotypes and side-step their associated misconceptions and, instead, work with individuals and teams to respect unique talents irrespective of age, background, creed or colour.

Firstly, it is important to accept that everyone enters the workplace with a distinct set of values, attitudes and behaviours and that they carry out their work following different ambitions, expectations and priorities.

Follow these practical tips to help you manage today’s and tomorrow’s diverse multi-generational workplaces.

1. Work on communications – vary your communication style to meet differing needs, but also use team-building exercises and behavioural profiling to help colleagues understand each other’s preferred ways of working and communicating. Don’t underestimate the value of face-to-face events, particularly if people work in virtual teams.

2. Champion cultural change – move towards performance and output led working and away from number of hours worked. Where possible, accommodate flexible hours and varied work styles to suit a wider range of people, focusing less on location and more on network and project-orientated work.

3. Reinforce feedback and recognition – support diverse and dispersed workforces with transparent and regular feedback mechanisms which include capacity for public recognition and reward both on an individual and team basis.

4. Provide regular training and development – encourage the updating and gaining of new skills, including those that develop emotional intelligence

5. Try out two-way mentoring – introduce two-way mentoring (sometimes called reverse mentoring) to actively break down cultural and generational barriers between different workers, providing a structure to help develop mutual respect and understanding between individuals.

When managed well, multi-generational workplaces can be extremely creative and vibrant places.

If you have either managed or worked within multi-generational workplaces, please feel free to share your experiences.

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