“Statistics show that Millenials, those born between 1980 and 2000, will soon become the largest segment in the US workforce. While they may seem to have unique needs when it comes to motivation, there are more similarities than differences across generations. If you focus on that, you’ll be far more successful” – blogoctanner.com
The times have changed – this is perhaps the most obvious and clichéd statement ever! The reason for mentioning the changed times is to draw attention to the fact that the ‘change’ has affected the working and the workforce set up of companies today. It would be hard to find companies where, for example, only elderly people sit at the helm of affairs. Today’s companies have a multigenerational workforce – ranging from people just about to attain adulthood, to people in their early 30s and 40s, to older people with years of experience either in the same company or a variety of companies. Whatever the ‘mix’, the fact is that almost all companies today face the challenges of managing a multigenerational workforce.
Even though it is challenging, a multigenerational workforce is necessary today since a company’s customers too would be multigenerational. Every generation has their own set of skills, knowledge, work ethics, values, expectations, and ‘style’ of working – which can prove to both an advantage, and one of the top reasons for conflict when ‘generations come together’. It becomes necessary for a company to put together strategies and tactics to manage their multigenerational workforce, or face possibly insurmountable problems. The older generations tend to be more loyal, focused, and hardworking, while expecting tangible rewards, while the younger generations would be more amenable to working in teams, earning what they require to meet their daily needs, and have fun while working. The differences in expectations, mind-sets, and refusal to ‘step down’ from what these varying groups expect from a company and their jobs, is what causes the problems.
Managers need to have the skills and expertise to manage the multigenerational workforce. They must know how to treat all employees fairly and as equals, while acknowledging the obvious differences in perspectives, experience, and skill sets. As the face and expectations of customers change – meaning that the younger generation is now more active, and is usually the largest set of customers for any company. Companies need to keep pace with this ‘trend’, which has therefore caused a massive surge in the number of younger workers hired in companies today. Customers expect to see and speak with smart, perceptive, and knowledgeable representatives of a company – they want to connect with those who would be ‘in tune’ with the latest information, newest apps and technology, and other such ‘in the now’ information – criteria met by the younger generation workforce. At the same time, customers want to know that they are dealing with an ‘intelligent and experienced’ company, which would be able to use its experience to solve their problems effectively and speedily. Hence, while it may be a tough ask to manage a multigenerational workforce – companies cannot hope to be successful without such a mix of employees.
What steps does your company take towards managing its multigenerational workforce? Is your company successful in keeping the balance between the varying mind-sets and perspectives? We believe that just as it is important for a company to first understand its customers in order to serve them well, so also it is imperative for a company to ‘study’ its multigenerational workforce in order to get the maximum output from them. The study of the demographics of the current workforce, and projected ‘make up’ of future employees will help a company to determine expectations of their workforce and put in place strategies and may be even job titles to keep all segments of their multigenerational workforce happy. The idea is to understand what matters to different sets of employees, what the company can do to attract both younger and more experienced employees, and what human resource strategies would work best to do so. Not only will a company be able to keep ‘a finger on the pulse’ of their workforce, it would also be able to keep issues arising from a multigenerational workforce at bay.
Irrespective of the varying mind-sets and generations of employees, a company must have a set of workplace policies and processes, non-negotiable for all employees, irrespective of age and designation. Putting these policies in writing and easily accessible for all employees would ensure that the multigenerational workforce would understand and would be required to accept standard norms and expectations from the company. Each person should be made responsible for adhering to these policies, by making them an inextricable part of each person’s KPIs and standards for progression in the company. Setting expectations early on and for all employees is a solid method to manage a multigenerational workforce. In the spirit of expectation setting, a company must encourage open conversation and communication. In case there are signs of stress or conflict owing to multigenerational differences, it would be necessary to address them openly, swiftly, and effectively. Often times, problems within companies escalate because companies hope and believe that the issues will sort out on their own – a misconception.
In the quest to manage and get the best out of a multigenerational workforce, a company must encourage regular meetings and discussions to help their employees understand the varying manner of working and approaches to a job that people of different generations may have. When employees gain an understanding from an older or younger employee perspective, it becomes a lot easier to accept the difference and make efforts to respect the differing views. One of the major causes of conflicts in a company is the ability and willingness to deal with change. Each generation would have their own unique way of dealing with change – the common thread though, would be that everyone feels threatened by change, and would react differently. In order to manage a multigenerational workforce it would be important for a company to understand the concerns and doubts of each ‘generation’ and put in steps to make the transition and change easier to deal with.
When dealing with any kind of workforce, and particularly a multigenerational one, it would be important to treat each employee as an individual and their role as vital to the success and progress of the company. It would be important to understand what each employee (even within the same generation) seeks from their job and the company, and what they would be willing to offer in exchange. A company would need to provide relevant and consistent responses to its employees when they seek answers to their problems and questions. Showing empathy to employees would mean that they in turn would behave in the same way with customers. Building empathy with its multigenerational workforce helps to increase efficiency and create stronger relationships with them.
While each generation would have certain characteristics, the leaders and managers in the company must understand that each employee is an individual. There must be no assumptions that employees would understand another person’s perspective, and managers too, must not assume that they understand or ‘get’ the perception of each person within different generational categories. The fact is that a multigenerational workforce is the most potent way to serve and keep a multigenerational customer base happy. As a company grows and move through different stages, the mix of its workforce continually evolves (as it should), but only those companies that can navigate those changes and effectively manage the multigenerational workforce would succeed.