Providing leadership in an Intergenerational Workplace
By: Brenda Robinson
Management and leadership development has a new challenge to address. How do we effectively lead people from four or even five generations in one workplace? Managers and leaders can have a significant impact on engagement levels, job satisfaction, team commitment and even desire to stay or return to work in this workplace.
Research tells us that we are headed into an increasingly competitive market for recruitment and retention. For every two employees eligible to retire, there is less than one replacement worker. And, the workers who are replacing retired employees are often coming from a very different generational experience. What does this mean? In most settings, it means a greater responsiveness and flexibility than ever before. We can no longer just manage a team or lead the group, we must manage and lead the diversity within our work groups.
Here’s a quick look at the diverse generational impacts of the five generations we experience today.
The Veterans (sometimes called matures.) These folks were born between 1927 and 1945. They are dedicated, loyal and worried. What are they worried about? They are concerned about pensions, benefits, security and maintaining lifestyles. They are a wealth of knowledge, but they don’t always share that knowledge unless they are asked to do so. They expect to be rewarded, respected and recognized for their experience and longevity in the workplace. Employers need to be concerned about maintaining the engagement of veterans since they are working longer, returning from retirement and often hold the history of the workplace in their “heads and hearts.”
Veterans are uncomfortable and may disengage in work settings where:
- There is lack of respect or respect isn’t communicated.
- Knowledge and experience based on past learnings are dismissed.
- People ignore or minimize the importance of rules, policies and guidelines.
- There appears to be change for the sake of change.
- They are given repetitive low profile work.
- People depend too extensively on technology at risk to interpersonal communications.
- They are asked to work long hours or meet the challenges of short projects with sharp deadlines.
- They find the workplace to be crisis laden.
- They are asked to be highly mobile.
However, veterans (matures) are highly engaged, energized and dedicated to settings where:
- They are placed on intergenerational teams.
- They are included in strategic planning and problem solving.
- They can take roles as coaches and mentors.
- They are not asked to give up their seniority or status in the workplace.
- They are recognized and given credit for what they have done (rewards and recognition count!)
- There is articulated respect for the wisdom of experience and longevity.
- They can create compressed workweeks, part time positions or flex schedules.
- They feel fully compensated for the work they do (being at the top of the scale with no room to move is not motivational.)
- There is clarity of policy guidelines, rules and job descriptions.
The “baby boomers” (post war boom.) Boomers have boomed since they were born in 1946 – 1964. They have been the largest segment of our population with the most influence for years. Now, they are getting attention for their imminent retirement. Research suggests that 30 – 35% of the population is boomers. As they retire, organizations are experiencing a huge loss in numbers, involvement, leadership and knowledge.
Boomers have focused on work to a large extent. They have been accused of living to work rather than working to live. They have always believed that the harder one works, the greater the rewards. They have always placed a great deal of value on promotions, raises, awards and achievements. They are quite stoical and do not expect rewards for doing the job day to day – only when they go beyond the standard or average, which they often do.
Because boomers encompass the biggest age range they are conditioned to expect and continue to expect to be the greatest influence in any setting. For years, they have been the target of marketing, advertising and the media. They are often surprised when there are influences other than their own.
Boomers often become disengaged in settings where:
- People don’t appear to be doing their share.
- Decisions are made outside of normal procedure.
- They perceive unfair workloads or allocation of responsibility.
- They are not included in strategic or succession planning.
- They are not given opportunity to train or prepare their replacements.
Boomers are engaged and committed in settings where:
- They feel their contribution is valued.
- They are recognized for their unique strengths and attitudes.
- They are recognized for their work ethics.
- They are rewarded for extra effort and long hours.
- They are allowed to mentor, coach and train.
- They are given training/learning/development opportunities
- They continue to be challenged and stimulated by the work and interaction.
- The workplace still has some social value for them.
- There is opportunity for career advancement and increases in pay.
- They feel included in planning, goal setting and change management.
Generation X (Gen Xers) This interesting group was born between 1965 and 1977. They have always been concerned that the sheer numbers of boomers will prevent them from having enough influence. They want to move up fast, make more money and they feel resentment for the barriers and blockades created by baby boomers. They were impacted by dramatic societal changes of the 60’s and 70’s. Speed is of the essence. They experienced the McDonald’s Mentality – faster, easier, and cheaper!
Gen Xers will disengage in settings where:
- Career progress is slow and dependent on retirement or drastic movement at the top.
- Communication is one way – especially one-way feedback systems.
- The “why” part of information sharing is not clearly articulated.
- The focus is on tradition, past policy and experience.
- Their education is not recognized and rewarded.
- Lump sum or group-targeted feedback is the model for evaluation or appraisal.
- Change is not regular enough.
- The environment is not challenging or stimulating enough.
- Personal activities are not recognized.
Generation X will demonstrate endless effort, energy and commitment in settings where:
- Career opportunities and openings for advancement are clearly defined and available.
- Their education is recognized and valued.
- Feedback is continual, consistent and preferably in the 360 degree format.
- Work is organized in teams with diverse strengths and talents.
- Constant opportunities are available for researching and implementing new technology and the latest tools and equipment.
- There is job flexibility – i.e., work from home, travel, alternate ways to communicate.
- Competitive pay, work conditions and specialized benefits.
- Multi-tasking is a key – the focus is on results not process.
- Work must address social and personal needs as well
- Millennials (generation Y’s.) The millennial were born between 1978 and 1992. They are sometimes described as an echo of the generation X’ers. However, there are some differences. Work/life balance and diverse work experiences are critical to the millennials.
They expect to move in and out of the workplace regularly and be appreciated for the knowledge and diverse experience this allows them to bring to work. They want to work in environments with limited stress and minimal conflict.
Work has to be fun. They understand the importance of efficiency, effectiveness and economy. However, they want to balance it with enthusiasm, enjoyment and positive energy.
Millennials will become disengaged in setting where:
- There is no provision for extra curricular interactions – gyms, fitness equipment, staff lounges, games and activities.
- There are no opportunities for cross training, job share, mentored learning, cooperative and collaborative work.
- Community and/or volunteer efforts are not recognized.
- The workplace is stressful or there is workplace conflict.
- Expectations are not mutually shared.
Millennials will become engaged involved and dedicated in settings where:
- Changes are viewed as exciting and new.
- Work/life balance is a priority and included in planning and objective setting.
- Steps are taken to minimize stress and conflict.
- Technology is the key tool for communication and task management.
- Teams are dynamic and ever changing.
- Work is fun everyday.
- Enhanced job flexibility.
- Education is appreciated, expected and continuing
- Travel is viewed as a positive educational experience.
- There are opportunities for leave of absence for various reasons.
Generation “why” (extreme gamers). So, what about generation “why”? They are just entering the workplace and are sometimes lumped in with generation X and Millennials. This we know for sure. They are more comfortable with technology then any previous generation. They play with technology. Their parents believed they should “work hard and play hard.” Generation “why” asks why work and/or play should be hard? Indeed, they believe that work and play should go hand in hand and both should always have an element of fun most of the time. They don’t just ask “why” – they ask “why not?”
Generation “why” will disengage in work settings where:
- The rules and policies appear to be barriers to creativity.
- Authority figures are powerful and not approachable.
- Too much emphasis is placed on tradition and theory.
- The structure outweighs the function.
- The atmosphere is too heavy and serious.
- There is reluctance to stay fully updated with technology and tools for working effectively and efficiently.
- People worry about pensions, security and seniority.
Generation “why” will engage positively and productively in work settings where:
- Interaction and teamwork are the way decisions are made.
- There is a “working with” instead of a “working for” attitude.
- Policies are more guidelines than rigid rules.
- Changes are welcomed and celebrated.
- Fun is encouraged and participation is expected.
- There are limited long-term expectations and a strong focus on working together today.
- There are opportunities for project/short-term involvement.
As we learn more about the diverse needs and interests of the intergenerational workgroup, we come to realize how exciting and interesting our workplace is becoming. Are we up to the demographic challenge?
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