Leading Multiple Generations
For the first time in history, five generations are working together, each bringing different leadership styles, varied career development designs, and different communication formats. Within the next two years, it is expected that the youngest two generations will comprise 70% of the workforce. This brings an array of creative and innovative benefits as well as a challenging organizational development opportunity.
First, let’s take a quick look at the generations that comprise the current workforce:
The Silent Generation (ages 71-89) <1% of the current workforce
Baby Boomers (ages 54-70) 27% (and declining as they retire at a rate of 10,000 per day or chose to work part-time if retirement isn’t affordable)
Generation X (ages 34-53) 35%
Generation Y, aka Millennials (ages 21-33) 37%
Generation Z, or Nexters (under 20) 1-2%
Many challenges arise with the interdependence of so many generations. Each age cohort is different. For example, the Silent generation prefers to communicate through face-to-face interaction but may accept memos as a more formal way to communicate while the Gen X employee wants direct communication with supervisors versus formal documentation. Gen Y employees appreciate direct communication and feedback, but Nexters communicate best using digital devices but are open to face-to-face communication. While face-to-face communication is acceptable to all generations, this poses a dramatic time challenge for leadership. While adopting the preferred communication style of each generation is prohibitive, there are acceptable compromises available.
The increasing organizational pressure to improve productivity will be a challenge. Nexter employees prefer small team engagement, but the Gen Y employee prefers a more entrepreneurial approach. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers tend to seek out contract work, in their retirement creating a fluid workforce and the Silent generation lead with a commanding style which can be abrasive to others.
Keeping up with new workplace trends and regulations, supporting work/life balance to create a happier workforce, and understanding what motivates each generation will also pose difficulties for leaders. They must strive to create an environment which engages the rule-oriented Silent generation, the workaholic Baby Boomers, who tend to get personal fulfillment from work, the Gen X’ers who prefer independence and fewer rules while seeking to balance work and family, and the Gen Y’ers who want a social, friendly work environment. A complex challenge indeed.
Nexters will surely have different perspectives on work, but it is too early to tell. Nexters tend to be digital with shorter attention spans and limited interpersonal skills, but technologically creative and open-minded. Of course, as they age, these tendencies may change. This young cohort will likely seek opportunities to use their digital skills, especially toward socially conscious causes. Expectations regarding incentives and compensation are increasingly more complex when administering pay practices within multi-generational organizations. Leaders must create a multi-level benefits system to appeal to each generation.
The Senior Executive Challenge
Senior leaders will be challenged in new ways as they adapt to the multi-generational workforce. By mentoring members of each generation, executives will gain valuable insights into motivations, expectations, and points of engagement. Executives must develop comprehensive communication strategies using multiple formats with face-to-face interactions at the core. Accessibility and transparency can serve to quickly bond employees to leaders as they blend generations to create a cohesive and effective work team. Clearly communicating the advantages of generational diversity can alter the team’s perception of the generation gap making it more of a generational benefit.
Leaders can promote cross-generational training and mobility to engage employees of all generations and to enhance skills across the team. By creating opportunities for intergenerational interactions, leaders will develop a culture of diversity and support among the age cohorts. Such diverse teams will be well equipped to provide creative solutions that are effective for the organization and appealing to each generation.
Leaders will be well served to acknowledge that each stage of life shares similarities and differences. By communicating the positive aspects of these commonalities and respecting team diversity, multi-generational teams will be cohesive and innovative. Multi-generational employment strategies will be complex and will require the long-view. Leaders must be patient, inquisitive and engaging to build this diverse team.