Managing the Multigenerational Workplace
All articles are written or co-written Vincent Triola
Longer lifespans and longer careers are significantly impacting the workplace. These trends create a workplace environment that is comprised of members from four different generations including Z, X, Y, and Baby Boomers in the workplace. Each generation carries its own perceptions, attitudes, and desires concerning the workplace. Managing this multigenerational environment is proving to be one of the largest issues in modern management because of the generational differences are often oppositional and counterproductive to forming cohesive and efficient workplaces.
The generational problem is a serious issue because its resolutions are often difficult to recognize and implement. Managers are challenged by their own personal biases and may not see this problem beyond their own personal values. The problem was recognized in the early 2000s,
…serious new problem in the workplace, and it has nothing to do with downsizing, global competition, pointy-haired bosses, stress or greed. Instead, it is the problem of distinct generations — the Veterans, the Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y — working together and often colliding as their paths cross (Hammill, 2005).
Despite the early recognition of the multigenerational problem, the issue continues to plague the workplace. One of the primary solutions to the issue is recognition of the differences in generational work ethics and values (Kummamuru & Murthy, 2014). Managers need to see past personal bias in order to understand the different characteristics for each generation in order to identify best practices for avoiding conflict within the workplace (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2018).
Generational Work Characteristics
The oldest generation, also known as the Baby Boomers, were born between 1946 and 1964. Boomers tend to be competitive and believe that the workplace is a hierarchy to which individuals should be loyal and pay their dues in the form of time and effort. Boomers are more willing to work longer hours but find less value in teamwork and collaborative environments.
Generation X or Gen Xers were born between 1965 and 1977. This generation tends to be somewhat less loyal to the workplace being skeptical and more independently minded. Generation X tend to be self-reliant and like working with minimal supervision. This generation is task-oriented seeking to complete projects in order to have more personal free time.
Generation Y also referred to as Millennials were born between 1978 and 2000. Millennials focus on teamwork and enjoy working in collaborative environments. This generation desires to have feedback and relies heavily on technology as its tools for task completion. Gen Ys tend to be the least loyal of generations because they value work as a means to an end such as making money (Kummamuru & Murthy, 2014). However, there is some contradiction in the Gen Y work type as it also desires for work to be meaningful (Kummamuru & Murthy, 2014).
Generation Z born from 2000 on are just entering the workforce but are already exerting their influence (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2018). Z’s tend to be more tech savvy than Millennials and more loyal to the workplace having grown up during the Great Recession (Boitnott, 2016). Z’s are also willing to work longer hours and are more likely to put time into the workplace if they value its output. They tend to value the workplace for its commitment to causes and ability to change society in a positive manner (Boitnott, 2016).
Understanding the differences between generations allows managers to effectively meet the diverse needs while simultaneously utilizing their differences to leverage more effective workplace practices. In order to develop these practices, managers need to be aware of personal biases and steer clear of stereotypes. For example, Millennials are often stereotyped as being lazy and having unrealistic goals and expectations (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2018). Stereotypes such as this view of millennials tends to lead to counterproductive actions on the part of management (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2018). The most effective strategies work by allowing the development for each generation rather than concentrating on generational differences.
Best Practices and Resolutions
Perhaps the most important strategy for resolving generational differences in the workplace is education. Training employees to recognize and understand generational differences. As part of a diversity training plan, employees should be educated in generational differences in order to work more cohesively with one another. People will adapt to differences if these differences are understood. For example, in team settings, older generations may perform better than younger generations with tasks that require less collaboration (Boitnott, 2016). Likewise, younger generations might be given the lead when it comes to performing tasks that require technology-oriented approaches.
Another resolution or practice might include a creation of mentoring or coaching program. Older generations who are experienced in the routines and traditions of the company can teach younger and newer employees these valuable concepts. Mentoring is not a one-way teaching strategy since mentoring programs allow for veteran employees to learn newer perspectives and methods that might allow for better productivity and efficiency (Kummamuru & Murthy, 2014). Mentoring can help all employees by creating a learning environment and opening all generations to new perspectives.
One important solution that is cross generational in nature is to develop a more flexible workplace. Creating a workplace that is less rigid can allow for veteran employees to reduce workloads by either choosing to work from home or control their hours autonomously. This is an effective solution for Boomers who are nearing retirement but may want stay involved in the workplace (Hammill, 2005). The manager is benefitted from flexibility by being able to maintain veteran employee knowledge and strengths while offering Gen X, Y, and Z flexibility to fit their values of the workplace.
The best practices for solving multigenerational workplace issues will likely be found in developing strategies that leverage the strengths of each generation. As technology and values within society continue to change, managers must concentrate their efforts on developing workforces that create competitive advantage by focusing the policies, training, and strategies in a manner that allows for each generation to find value in the modern workplace.
Boitnott, J. (2016, January 26). Generation Z and the Workplace: What You Need to Know . Retrieved from Inc.: https://www.inc.com/john-boitnott/generation-z-and-the-workplace-what-you-need-to-know-.html
Hammill, G. (2005). Mixing and Managing Four Generations of Employees. Retrieved from FDU Magazine: http://www.fdu.edu/newspubs/magazine/05ws/generations.htm
Kummamuru, S., & Murthy, P. (2014). Human resource management: towards human-centric approach. The IUP Journal of Soft Skills, 4, 36–44.
Noe, R. A., Hollenbeck, J. R., Gerhart, B., & Wright, P. M. (2018). Fundamentals of Human Resource Management. McGraw-Hill: New York.