As Baby Boomers approach retirement age, more and more workplace today consists of only three groups: Generation X, Y and Z. It can be beneficial to have a mixture of experience and youthful energy in the workplace, however it could also be difficult to manage, given the sheer differences that exist within these generations.
To achieve a cohesive workforce, we need to be able to effectively address the challenges and take advantage of the differences in each generation. We also need to acknowledge that every generation has its best traits and characteristics. For example, Gen-X (born in the mid-1960s to pre-1980s) is considered the best workers throughout history whereas Gen-Y (born from 1981 to 1995) is often more passionate in their work and Gen-Z (those born after 1995) is the most connected of the lot.
So how do you deal with all the generational differences and create a harmonious work environment with all of them?
1. Understand generational values
As leaders, we need to look beyond the different generational values and understand that each generation has its own characteristics. For example, Gen-X believes having a boss as a symbol of authority is still the proper way of a corporate structure whereas the younger generations believe in “flat hierarchy” and having a boss is simply like having a mentor. Gen-X also believes that progress and promotion comes from years of hard work, experience and expertise whereas the younger generations think everyone has an equal shot on that promotion as experience is less important if they are good at what they do.
2. Create recognition
Recognition naturally boosts productivity in the workplace. Gen-X workers are generally hardworking as they believe that the path to success is long, hard and inevitable. They are also more loyal towards their work compared to the younger generations and their bosses can be a driving force to motivate them further. A simple goodwill gesture from their bosses such as a motivational pat on the back or a positive email thanking their staff for their hard work is enough to keep Gen-X motivated. Gen-Y and Gen-Z on the other hand, constantly seek acknowledgement and regular feedback. To keep them motivated, frequent employee reviews are required to recognise their work and more training opportunities should be allocated for them to progress further.
3. Encourage learning and interaction
The differences between the generations also allow them to learn from each other. Therefore, we should encourage more cross-generational learning and interaction. The younger generations can learn the experience and expertise offered by the senior generations whereas the latter can learn to adapt to new perspectives or even pick up new technical skills from the former. Consider implementing different learning styles to cater to all, where the more traditional generation would prefer training methods such as using handbooks while the modern generation would be more intrigued by interactive, technology-based forms of learning.
4. Company structure and environment
The workplace has undoubtedly evolved tremendously over the past decades, with new generations unpacking different strengths and expectations as they join the workforce. The key to a cohesive work environment is to have a clear and mutual understanding on how each generation works. The sooner we learn to understand them, the better we will be in helping to bridge these generational gaps.