In a two-part article integrating age groups in the workplace Chris Merrick looks at how to manage differing generational expectations in the workplace.
Advancements in science and healthcare have resulted in a significantly extended human lifespan, which, in turn, has led to people working much longer than ever before.
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In fact, the current workplace now contains as many as five different generations, with ages that span up to as much as fifty years. From Baby Boomers and Gen Xers to Gen Y and millennials, not only are organisations facing issues in managing older workers, but they are also being tasked with attracting and retaining younger employees, mainly, the much talked about Generation Z.
It can, therefore, only be expected that these employees will have vastly different expectations of their daily working lives. These varying wants and needs mean that businesses must learn how to manage the often conflicting views and expectations from these assorted age groups.
There is a common conception that intergenerational difficulties in the workplace will present key issues for HR professionals. This is why in 2016, we must challenge these beliefs by finding new and innovative ways to make the increasingly broad labour force inclusive.
So how can we manage differing generational expectations in the workplace?
Traditional career paths may no longer fit
We are now in an age where the future workforce expects to hold multiple roles throughout their lifetime. But, we also know that at any age, people want to find meaning in their career. The trick is to build an understanding of how this may differ with each generation.
For example, millennials tend to be more focused on ensuring that their work life balances with their personal life and so are aiming to follow a career path that will be rewarding both from a financial and personal perspective.
In fact, this generation, unlike Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, is much more prepared to leave a role if they do not feel satisfied with it. Previous generations, on the other hand, generally had the opposite balance. For many, it was the norm to stay in one company for the duration of their career.
This shift is down to a number of factors; namely the way that different generations have been brought up, and the reduced amount of autonomy that children have had as years have progressed.
By understanding how different generations may have different demands, we will soon realise that a one-size-fits-all approach will no longer work – policies need to reflect the needs of the individual instead.
Adapt learning processes
Alongside career progression comes learning and development and one of the keys to managing a multi-generational workforce is accommodating different learning styles.
Recognition programmes are one way in which to do this, particularly for millennials who have grown up with a lot more encouragement than Generation Xers, and generally feel more comfortable voicing their opinion in the workplace.
PwC’s Millennials at work: Reshaping the workplace found that these young individuals expect detailed, frequent feedback and praise for a job well done. Their desire to be challenged outside of their job roles and want for regular employee feedback is forcing businesses and HR to rethink their engagement strategies to keep these employees engaged.
The organisations that manage millennials most successfully are those that appreciate the importance of providing clear targets and regular, structured reviews.
Utilise mentoring programmes
As the balance of workplace seniority shifts, it’s also important that HR and L&D departments help the multi-generational workforce find common ground, in order to promote a harmonious and productive business environment.
With a number of ambitious millennials shooting up through the ranks, there is a growing number of workers reporting to younger managers. This shift is raising a question around how to keep older staff motivated, as this can understandably make them feel unable to keep up with the pace of a new digital culture.
It is the responsibility of HR to help ease generational tensions, misunderstandings and age-bound stereotypes. One way to do this is by helping employees recognise that they each have a distinct set of skills that are valuable and can be shared with others in the workforce.
Another way to combat this prevalent issue, which many forward-thinking companies are implementing, is a culture of reverse-mentoring, where younger employees share their knowledge with older staff.
Not only does this help to bring the diverse range of generations together in the workplace, but it is also a great way of employees further developing their skills. For example, digitally-savvy millennial employees could demonstrate how to use the latest tech to gather resources and data, thus potentially enabling the more mature workers to become increasingly efficient and adept in their positions.
In our line of work, we are finding that organisations that introduce such schemes are witnessing a reduced turnover rate amongst both younger and more senior staff. It is it a great way for ambitious millennials to feel recognised for their skillset and catch a glimpse into holding managerial positions. For older workers, this teaching of new skills allows them to feel more in control in a world that has been revolutionised by digital technology.
Embrace older generational knowledge
Despite these benefits, one thing that younger generations must remember when entering the workforce is that although they may have some great ideas and new ways of working, there is still a lot to learn.
Older generations will have a wealth of knowledge and understanding gained over the course of a lifetime in a business environment that has developed significantly since their career began. Organisations need to try to attract fresh, young talent, and these young individuals themselves will also have to adapt and change to fit into existing world of business.
This is why, despite the league of benefits that reverse-mentoring can bring to an organisation’s workplace, it is important that these knowledge sharing sessions and mentorship programmes run both ways.
No matter how technologically advanced working practices become, older staff will still hold important corporate, company and market specific knowledge, which will be crucial to success for the millennials who succeed them.
Recognising this need for senior staff to maintain a sense of leadership when younger workers are directing others, is essential to ensure they feel as important in today’s constantly evolving workplace.
Simultaneously, younger staff will generally find it easier to take advice from experienced workers as opposed to one of their peers as there is less of a sense of competition. Encouraging idea and opinion sharing among these age groups will help to dispel archaic, hierarchical managing methods, whilst making all employees involved feel more pertinent and respected, regardless of their age.
Establishing and encouraging mixed-age teams in the workplace is another way to promote cross-generational mentoring. This kind of diverse culture allows mentoring relationships to develop more naturally. In fact, PwC’s Millennials at Work survey found that employees tend to learn more from working with each other than they do with formal training.
Part two will explore flexible working and technology’s impact on our multi-generational workforce.
Chris Merrick is business development director at Capita Resourcing.