Managing Multigenerational Teams: Overcoming the Challenges of a Changing Workforce
By Allen Dillard, CFO, Digium
For the first time in history, organizations will soon be faced with managing four generations of workers, from Baby Boomers to Gen Z. Leading and developing employees has never been conducive to a one-style-fits-all approach, and it’s about to get more complicated. Juggling the wants and needs of a group of employees spanning such a wide age range—and with such a diverse set of work requirements—will be challenging during the next decade as workers transition in and out of the workplace.
It’s not always clear for managers and human resources professionals how to provide a work environment and benefit structure that addresses the wants and needs of each generation. Based on cultural shifts that took place within each time period, every generation carries a distinct set of attitudes, values, and behaviors. Each also has its own set of expectations, workstyle, and communication preferences—all of which influence the way work is accomplished. Flexibility will be key to effectively lead a multigenerational workplace. Managers should strive to understand the new work dynamic, anticipate the likely issues surrounding such diverse teams, and be prepared to frequently adjust management styles and strategy accordingly.
Here are three areas expected to present the biggest challenges for managers:
As baby boomers (born between 1946-1964) race to retirement, organizations face a difficult challenge in transitioning Generation X (1965-1981) and millennials (1982-1995) into executive positions and Generation Z (1996-2010) employees into the workforce. Research shows these generations have far less desire to pursue executive leadership roles than previous generations. This is not to suggest that millennials (ages 22-35) don’t want to prove themselves as leaders; in fact, according to a Deloitte survey 70 percent see themselves working independently at some point in their careers. Organizations looking to groom younger workers for leadership roles should consider alternative work environments so employees don’t feel tied down, such as flex hours, remote work options and ROWE (results only work environment). If younger generations feel they have a better work-life balance and business goals are being met, organizations should have less difficulty filling the baby boomer positions.
At the same time, there’s an opportunity to promote Gen X workers into more leadership roles. While this generation is supposedly less likely to demand attention and tout their accomplishments than millennials, their experience and loyalty make them ideal leaders who can also mentor the next generation of workers not be ready to take the helm.
The difference in preferred communication styles between older and younger generations is fairly obvious and can cause serious communication breakdown among teams if not handled appropriately. According to a Gallup poll, baby boomers and Generation X prefer email and more formal communication methods with coworkers, while millennials and Generation Z prefer the instantaneous and less formal methods, such as texting, instant messaging, and social media. This difference can cause frustration from both groups as some may view the lack of formality as lack of respect, while others may see the formality of older coworkers as stuffy and unnecessary.
The key for managers is to provide options. It’s easy to adapt to employees’ preferences and requirements by providing them with the tools they need to relay information the way that works best for them. For example, unified communications solutions provide several methods of communication, such as voice calling, instant messaging, video sessions and mobile applications. Properly training employees on every tool provided is fundamental. Managers worried about their baby boomers falling behind should not fear; according to boomer think-tank consultancy Age Wave, this group is 71 percent as likely as their younger counterparts to try new products and services, and they purchase more hardware, software, and electronics than any other generation.
A difference in values correlates with a difference in needs, and this is causing confusion among companies looking to create a benefits package—and even informal perks—that appeal to every age group.
According to a MetLife survey, more than half of employees (59 percent) say they would like their company to recommend benefits appropriate for their life stage, so managers should take this into consideration and work with HR when creating perks that are meaningful for recruiting and retaining employees. For example, an infographic from Paychex shows baby boomers value salary level, health insurance, and a retirement plan; Generation X values salary level, 401K plan with matching benefits, job security, advancement within the company, and opportunities for work-life balance; and millennials value benefits choices, paid time off, ability to work remotely, control over their schedules and a great deal of flexibility.
The younger generations often struggle to fully understand how formal benefits play a role in overall job satisfaction, so educating this group on how benefits impact finances and day-to-day life is essential in order for them to see the value being offered. One perk that is of understood importance to millennials is the opportunity for career advancement, according to research from Pricewaterhouse Coopers. Career-path development, including training and mentoring options, is often an affordable perk for companies of all sizes to offer.
In other good news, there are some shared preferences for company benefits across the generations such as flexible work options, unlimited paid time off, and various types of health and wellness perks. Whatever the benefit, getting creative with perks is one way to spark the interest of any generation. Managers should consider the generation they are trying to attract or retain, consider what life stage they are in and their values, and brainstorm benefits that may accommodate them.
While it is easy to generalize about the characteristics of each generation, there are always exceptions; not everyone fits into the mold they are assumed to fit into, and some may even find it offensive. Managers should be aware of generational differences, yet treat employees as individuals, encouraging open dialogue about their values, expectations and communication preferences. Diversity promotes creativity and innovation, but before organizations can reap those benefits they must understand how to effectively manage these groups in a way that brings out their full potential.
Allen Dillard is the CFO of Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.