In 2020, 25 percent of the labor force is projected to be over the age of 55 – and they’re not retiring anytime soon. These projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the US Department of Labor indicate that not only will Baby Boomers continue to work alongside their current Generation X and Millennial colleagues, but that they will still be around when Generation Z joins the workforce.
The result? A clash of cultures that will require a new management approach.
Gone are the days when people entered the workforce as young adults, worked until their late 50s, and then moved off into retirement while younger generations took their place. Instead, the average retirement age has steadily been creeping up in recent decades as older employees – in particular, the Baby Boomers – stay in the workforce either by choice or by necessity.
Before we dive into the discussion, here’s a brief recap of just who comprises the generational cohorts mentioned above. While there’s no set standard, the following descriptions are generally accepted:
- Baby Boomers – born in the years 1946-1964, numbering about 76 million people
- Generation Xers – born in the years 1965-1980, numbering about 66 million people
- Millennials – born in the years 1981-1997, numbering just over 83 million people
- Generation Zers – born in the years 1998-present, numbering over 80 million and still growing
How do you manage the workplace reality of having three or four different generations on your team?
THE QUICK SUMMARY – Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Boomers, GenXers, and GenYers in the Workplace by Ron Zemke, Claire Raines, and Bob Filipczak
Written for all who are struggling to manage a workforce with often incompatible ethics, values, and working styles, Generations at Work looks afresh at the root causes of professional conflict and offers practical guidelines for navigating multigenerational differences.
By laying bare the most common causes of conflict – including the Me Generation’s frustration with GenYers’ constant desire for feedback and the challenges facing GenXers sandwiched between these polarities – the book offers practical, spot-on guidance for managing the differences with consideration to each generation’s unique needs.
Along with the authors’ insights for managing a workforce with different ways of working, communicating, and thinking, the book offers in-depth interviews with members of each generation, tips on best practices from companies successfully bridging the generation gap, and a mentorship field guide to help you support the youngest members of your team–tools, which are the key to helping your workforce interact more positively with one another and thrive in today’s wildly divergent workplace culture.
A SIMPLE SOLUTION
According to the authors of Generations at Work, today’s workplace contains the conflicting voices and views of the most age- and value-diverse workplace the world has known since our great-great-great-grandparents abandoned field and farm for factory and office. At no time in our history have so many and such different generations with such diversity been asked to work together shoulder to shoulder, side by side, and cubicle to cubicle.
While there have certainly been multiple generations employed in the same organization before, they were mainly separated from each other by the hierarchy of a manufacturing-oriented economy. Senior (older) employees – mostly white and male – worked in the head office or were top management positions in key parts of the company. Middle-aged employees tended to be in middle management or high-skill, seniority-protected trade jobs. The youngest, newest, and physically strongest were on the factory floor or endured time in specific trainee slots that would lead, over time, to middle management – at best.
Among all the groups mentioned above, contact was primarily horizontal; with people like themselves, or at best, one level up or down the chain of command. Mingling among the generations, if and when it happened at all, was significantly influenced by formality and protocol.
Today’s workplace is totally different. The old pecking order, hierarchy, and shorter work life spans that kept a given generational cohort isolated from others no longer exist or they exist in a more permeable manner.
An unfortunate outcome of this shift is the likelihood of intergenerational conflict: differences in values, views, and ways of working, talking, and thinking that set people in opposition to one another, and challenge organizational best practices.
While generational differences have existed for, well, generations, what’s different is that this new generation gap is a four-way divide. The once “natural” flow of resources, power, and responsibilities from older to younger has been dislocated by changes in life expectancy, increases in longevity and health, as well as changes in lifestyle, technology, and knowledge.
Life for every generation has become increasingly nonlinear, unpredictable, and uncharitable.
Generational differences can be a source of creative strength and a source of opportunity, or a source of stifling stress and unrelenting conflict. Understanding generational differences is critical to making them work for the organization and not against it.
Accommodate employee differences
With employee retention at or near the top of the list of organizational “must meet” measures, the most generationally friendly organizations treat their employees as they do their customers. They learn all they can about them, work to meet their specific needs, and serve them according to their unique preferences. Each generation’s icons, language, and precepts are acknowledged, and language is used that reflects generations other than those “at the top.”
Generationally friendly companies allow the workplace to shape itself around the work being done, the customers being served, and the people who work there. They recognize that people from a mix of generations have differing needs and preferences, and they design their human resources strategies to meet varied employee needs. “Change” is not so much the name of a training seminar or a core value listed somewhere in their mission statement as it is an assumed way of living and working.
Operate from a sophisticated management style
Generationally friendly managers don’t have time for BS, although they are tactful. They give those who report to them the big picture, with specific goals and measures, and then they turn their people loose – giving them feedback, rewards, and recognition as appropriate.
Respect competence and initiative
Generationally friendly organizations assume the best of people. They treat everyone, from the newest recruit to the most seasoned employee, as if they have great things to offer and are motivated to do their best. It is an attitude that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Generationally friendly organizations are concerned and focused, on a daily basis, with making their workplaces magnets for excellence. They know that keeping their people is every bit as important in today’s economy as finding and retaining customers. Therefore, they offer lots of training, from one-on-one coaching opportunities to interactive online training to an extensive and varied menu of classroom courses. They encourage lateral movement within the organization and have broadened assignments.
Ron Zemke, Claire Raines, and Bob Filipczak, Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Boomers, GenXers, and GenYers in the Workplace
A NEXT STEP
Set aside time at a future leadership team meeting to review your organizational structure in terms of the five initiatives listed above.
On five separate chart tablets, write one phrase each as listed above across the top. Draw a vertical line down the center of each chart tablet, and write the words, “Positive” and “Negative” on either side of the line.
Discuss with your team how each one of the five initiatives are demonstrated in your organization in both positive and negative terms.
After your discussion is concluded, decide how you will celebrate the positive actions and correct the negative actions.
Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 127-1, released September 2019.
Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader
Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.