There’s no doubt that our generational differences can make us stronger – if we simply work together. Reciprocal mentoring (a relationship structure that harnesses the power of mentoring into a mutually beneficial relationship where each participant takes turns being the mentor and the mentee), is just one of the many strategies organizations are adopting to weave common threads among multigenerational employees.
Busting the Power of Stereotype Threat: The Killer of Teamwork
Research shows that humans are naturally hardwired to stereotype. A glimpse of a person is enough for our brains to create judgment about them, and each of us is part of a social subset that has some negative stereotype attached to it. Older employees are often preconceived to be slower workers who are hard set against change. They are thought to be slow learners and scared of technology. Younger employees are surrounded by their own set of stereotypes. They are often labeled as lazy workers who don’t stay loyal to a company, and want to be constantly praised. It’s important to be aware of the dangerous consequences of these stereotypes. One of them is called stereotype threat – a predicament where people work with the fear of conforming to the negative stereotypes surrounding their group. It can have detrimental effects on the performance of individuals belonging to negatively stereotyped subsets.
Understanding the Different Generations
From the surface it can seem difficult for business leaders and managers to get the four generations, who grew up in completely different environments, to collaborate and communicate effectively together. But it isn’t an impossible task to foster cohesion among what may seem like very fragmented groups. The first step to avoid commotion and collision between multigenerational employees, and to get the whole staff working together, is to better understand what shaped them to be who they are.
1. The Silent Generation: These are the members of the Veteran generation who survived the Great Depression and World War II. They were known for staying quiet, laying low and working hard, hence the moniker “Silent” generation. They are the children of war who grew up during lean times. They value hard work and sacrifice and consider work a privilege. They are loyal to their employers and respect authority. They believe respect, wealth, status and reward should be earned through hard work.
2. Baby Boomers: This generation grew up in an era that was defined by events like the Vietnam War, Women’s Liberation Movement, Civil Rights Movement and Space exploration. This group values relationships and strong interpersonal skills because they grew up without technology. The majority of baby boomers are adept at tech now, but they prefer to use technology to stay productive rather than for staying connected. This generation believes in working long hours, and essentially created “Corporate America”, and the culture of face-to-face meetings at work (a structure that the millennials are working hard to change).
3. Generation X: This group is also known as the sandwich generation because they are right in the middle of two prominent generations – The Baby Boomers and the Generation Y. Where Baby Boomers are defined as workaholics, Generation X are more focused on creating a work-life balance. Many of the people in this category were raised in broken homes or by divorced parents. They value career security more than job security, and like being self reliant. Being entrepreneurial is a side-effect of this need to be dependent on no one except themselves.
4. Generation Y: This generation is predominantly defined by technology. They look forward to, and fully embrace, innovation. They prefer communicating through text and emails than face-to-face interactions, which tends to hurt their interpersonal skills. They are changing the traditional structure of corporate America. They are confident and aren’t afraid of questioning their authorities. They constantly seeking new challenges, and like being valued with feedback when working with a team.
Taking the time to learn what shapes your employees within each generation can help you identify their underlying values, needs, attitudes and motivational buttons. With this insight you will be able to implement strategies that connect you to the core values of each of the cohorts and avoids misunderstandings.
5 Areas of Generational Differences in Workplace
A research survey, developed by Robert Half Management Resources, specifically looked at the how the generations actually differed. The participants, including more than 2,200 CFOs, were asked the question – “In which one of the following areas do you see the greatest differences among your company’s employees who are from different generations?”
Below are the key findings from the survey:
• Communication skills- 30%
• Adapting to change- 26%
• Technical Skills- 23%
• Cross-departmental collaboration- 14%
• 7% of the respondents mentioned seeing no difference
Baby Boomers prefer in-person interactions and are more “reserved” than their counterparts; Generation Y prefers a collaborative means of communication over an authoritative style. Y are more receptive to coaching, and crave feedback 50% more than other employees.
Generation X and Y look at change as a “vehicle to new opportunities.” Although the research didn’t mention Baby Boomer’s attitude in this area, other studies have shown that they are more resistant to organizational change. Since Baby Boomers value communication, one of the ways to increase their readiness to change is to verbally talk them through the situation and make sure they understand why the change is necessary.
As expected, the survey showed that Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers prefer learning via traditional methods, while millennials prefer collaborative or tech-driven options. The younger workforce grew up with tech as their third appendage, so this result is very much expected.
The silent generation is mostly driven by hard work, job titles and salary. Since Baby boomers are very ambitious and goal driven, they are highly motivated by promotions, increased responsibility and recognition. Gen X’ers like doing their own thing, and are heavily influenced by flexible schedules and monetary rewards like bonuses and stock options. The millenials love stability, structure and team work. They also find a lot of value in continuing education and ongoing feedback from their supervisors.
Millennials – just like the older generation – want to be respected. It should be noted that the way each generation speaks the language of feeling valued is different. Older workers like their opinions to be given more weight because they’ve more experience. The younger workers want to feel listened to even if it isn’t implemented. Another interesting point to address is that many older workers may not like when equal respect is shown to everyone, especially to an employee with less experience or a lower title.
How to Make Cross-Generational Leadership Work
Grappling the friction between four generations of employees in the same workplace might seem overwhelming, but once you understand the expectations of each of these generations from their work, it becomes easier to manage and help them align with one another better.
5 Strategies to Create Cross-Generational Leadership
1. Encourage mentoring: Knowledge comes with experience, but both older workers and younger workers are adept at different things. Millennials may be tech savvy but mature employees also hold valuable knowledge interpersonal skills that everyone can benefit from. As mentioned earlier in this article, millennials thrive in a supportive environment that’s fueled with feedback. So why not use the baby boomers in your workforce who have vast knowledge and strong networks to inspire your younger employees? And it isn’t just a one way flow of knowledge; younger employees can teach older generation useful tech skills and provide them with marketing information related to the fresh generation of buyers. Establishing a good mentoring program also ensures that the extensive institutional knowledge that older employees have will not leave the organizational workforce when they retire.
2. Give an option to work offsite: Avoid micromanaging and offer your employees options to telecommute or work offsite. Since different generations have their own way of getting the job done, businesses should focus more on the end result rather than how their employees are getting there. Gen X and Y often report that they are more efficient when working from a coffee shop or a rented co-working space because they value flexibility. Integrating flexible working offsite options for at least a day or two a week will ensure that everyone on your team feels acknowledged and accommodated.
3. Offer different learning styles: Traditionalists (Silents) learn their best in a “command-control” structure like lectures. Baby boomers prefer in-class set up with PowerPoint presentations, followed by a discussion and feedback session. Generation X love learning through self-directed programs where they can complete a course in their own pace, and Generation Y learn their best in hyper-personalized training course that’s also self-directed. Since the younger generation grew up with tech, they like their information available to them “on-demand.” HR representatives and learning and development teams within an organization should do their best to accommodate each of the four learning styles.
4. Encourage engagement among employees: Every employee, across all the 4 generations, like their opinions to be valued and heard. Give each of them a chance to present their ideas and complaints. Creating a work culture that inspires conversation can increase employee performance as well. Younger employees, especially, like working in a supportive environment and aren’t afraid of changing jobs if they can find a workplace that will better allow them to have a voice. Encouraging engagement, thus, will keep the turnover rate low, and employees will feel more positive about sharing innovative ideas that improve business processes and accelerate growth. In a space where everyone feels heard, employees are more prone to make better decisions and give their 100%.
5. Tailor communication to each generation: The preferred communication style varies by generation. Younger employees prefer digital communication, such as an instant text message or email. Older employees prefer in person, one-on-one communication, or even phone conversations. Generation X, like Gen Y, like feedback, and they tend to want to treat everyone the same, so talk to them directly right about their performance. Traditionalists prefer the old-school type of written communications, such as memos. Make sure that you let them know how much you appreciate their experience and when you communicate with them, make sure it’s about something important.
Closing generational gaps starts with learning about your employees needs and values. There is strength to be gained from a generationally diverse workforce because, as a whole, they have stronger and varied cognitive problem-solving skills which is necessary to face the challenges arising from the disruptive and unpredictable marketplace of today.
To reach Dr. Abramson please contact us via email or call us at (877) 895-3680.