26 May 2015

Strategies to successfully manage and motivate a multigenerational workforce

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While it is not a new phenomenon to have multiple generations working side by side, the current situation of having four generations in the workforce is something of a unique experience.

With the Traditionalists working well beyond retirement age, the Baby Boomers approaching retirement in an era where economic security is not assured, Generation X and the Millennials all working together – and the next Generation, Gen Z, soon to reach the age for University – HR managers find themselves in a bit of predicament. 

How do you successfully manage the needs of so many generations, while successfully navigating the demands of your business?

Overcoming the three main challenges faced in a multigenerational workplace is the key to not only the long-term success of an organisation, but to developing a cohesive and supportive team.

Communication breakdowns

Overcoming communication barriers is one of the main challenges HR managers need to address in the face of managing a multigenerational workforce. With the Millennials used to quick fire responses on social media, text messaging and instant messaging, and Baby Boomers and Gen X traditionally more comfortable with email and telephone based communication, the need to develop an effective, multiplatform communication strategy to connect with all staff is almost a cliché. 

As older employees tend to be more used to communicating in what they see as more respectful terms – the formality of email and direct conversation – the opportunity for misinterpretation of faster, more modern terms of communicating can often be misconstrued as disrespectful, leading to breakdowns in communication and, if left unaddressed, negative feelings between the generations in the workplace develop into deeper, more long-lasting issues. 

Making the effort to develop a clear communication policy within an organisation – as simple as that sounds – goes a long way towards ensuring a multigenerational workplace overcomes any communication breakdown before it has a negative effect on the organisations goals and objectives.

Negative Stereotypes

We’ve all heard the negative stereotypes; Gen X is angry and lost, Gen Y too demanding, expecting too much too soon, the Baby Boomer too set in their ways, unable to adapt. Negative stereotypes have an insidious long-term effect on the overall culture of an organisation. 

By developing ways for an open exchange of ideas, the various generations will be able to work together more effectively. The knowledge of the Baby Boomers is an invaluable asset to any organisation and it is through the proactive measures of the company’s leaders that the information can be passed on in ways that are not perceived to as “being bossy.”

The fact remains that by 2030 predictions in recent research show upwards of 38 million Baby Boomers will be transitioned to retirement. Through early intervention and organisational support, the information they contain can be shared with younger generations for the long-term benefit not only of the company, but also the future leaders who are only at the beginning their careers. 

Cultural Trends

The working culture of Australia is shifting. As the leaders of industry grapple with the transformational impacts of the digital economy, employees are grappling with the changes to their own work/life balance.

For the Baby Boomers, used to the daily commute and hours of work put in at the desk, the transition to a more mobile workforce can be especially jarring. While Gen X and Gen Y are more used to working from home, the idea of not being at the office can be hard to fathom for older workers. 

Younger generations do not see the office as the central hub it used to be, with younger leaders more interested in the outcomes the team produces as opposed to how many hours people sit at their desks.

Organisational leaders need to work within the confines of a multigenerational workforce, adapting existing policies to make sure everyone is working in the environment that best suits them. Younger workers value work life balance more than they value a particular role and are quick to search for a new position if their current role does not support this, while older workers may be more set by the routine of 9 to 5 in the office. 

By acknowledging the employee’s contributions regardless of the style in which they work, HR Leaders and front line managers will be able to better manage the demands of a multigenerational mobile workforce.

As Richard Milgram, Chief Executive Officer of Beyond.com said in an interview with Business News Daily in June 2014 "Each generation brings their own set of skills and cultural norms, a successful office should be a melting pot of different generations, personalities and talent, all coming together toward a common goal. That is the only way a company will ensure they are bringing fresh perspectives to oftentimes common problems."

Mike Cullen has recently returned to Akolade after a period as the conference producer for one of Australia's leading economic think tanks. Mike began working in the conference industry in 2007 after looking for a career change from the high pressured world of inbound customer service. Mike has worked for some of the most well known conference and media companies in the B2B space and in his spare time is working on his first novel in a planned Epic Fantasy trilogy.

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