Maximizing the Talents of A Multigenerational Team

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How the Four Generations View Work

Imagine this: a 20-year-old candidate applies to work for your organization part-time. She is really excited about working for you since she and her friends love your brand. When it’s time to talk about her work schedule she says:  “Well I can only work Tuesday nights, Thursday and Friday morning.” When you mention that all employees have to rotate working nights or weekends, she replies confidently “well I can’t work on weekends, I have a life!”

Traditionalists 1922-1945


Baby Boomers 1945-1964


Gen Xers 1965-1981


Gen Ys 1981–2000


In your organization, how would a manager respond? What would the other employees, who have been working for you for years, think of this candidate’s request? One of the greatest HR challenges is managing the expectations and behaviours of a multigenerational workforce. The four generational cohorts – Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Ys – have very different values, behaviours and expectations. Each generation has different expectations of what the employment relationship should be like.

Traditionalists often feel grateful to an organization for giving them work. Their relationship with a managers is one in which they will show respect, whether or not they personally like the manager. Baby Boomers believe that they have to work hard to show an organization that they are a valued team player. They give managers respect because the manager has been given the title and responsibility. This generation strives to climb the corporate ladder so they too can be managers one day. Gen Xers believe that their relationship with an organization is a contractual one; they are reluctant to give ‘too’ much without feeling that the organization is giving back to them – be it through pay, learning opportunities, vacation time etc. They respect managers who are competent and can guide Gen Xers in learning new skills. Gen Ys believe that the employment relationship has to be a mutually beneficial relationship; one in which they have the right to make as many demands of the organization as the organization may make of them. They respect managers who show them an equal amount of respect, recognize their personal aspirations, and are competent.

Clashes Between Generations

You can see how these differing generational perspectives on the employment relationship and viewpoints on the role of managers can lead to clashes in the workplace. Traditionalists and Baby Boomers might feel the younger generations’ casual approach to their managers is disrespectful. They may consider the requests made by Gen Xers and Gen Ys to demonstrate a sense of entitlement. On the flip side, younger employees might find rigid processes, structures and rules as outdated and an indicator of an inability to adapt to change. The judgments that one generation may make of another is what leads to decreased employee engagement which in turn leads to lower team performance.  The more your employees are engaged, the more they are inclined to do more for your organization. Dysfunctional teams lead to decreased productivity.

Leaders need to be keenly aware of the perceptions that team members have of each other. They also need to be sensitive to their own generational biases. This is the first and necessary step to creating a workplace that is focused on maximizing the skills sets of all four generations, while managing the differences to driver greater team collaboration and performance. The second step is that leaders need to demonstrate that they too are engaged in building a win-win relationship with all employees.

Three warning signs of a generational clash

  1. When you have employees from one generation purposely wanting to only work with each other.

Suggested solution: ensure that you create schedules /work assignments / projects with multiple generations and assign tasks that encourage collaboration.

  1. You overhear comments that pass judgment on the perceived work ethic of other employees.

Suggested solution: Ask for clarification – is it that the other employee is working differently but still achieving results, or are they not getting the work done at all? Often when someone works differently than us and doesn’t follow the same process, we assume they have a poor  work ethic, but that may not be the case.  They may be equally productive, but might approach completing the tasks in an entirely different way.

  1. You have problems with absenteeism, dress code and business etiquette.

Suggested solution:  clearly state expectations during the recruitment and orientation processes. With existing employees, have the team discuss the protocols and the need for these protocols in order to achieve superior customer service. Have the team identify the negative impact their behaviour has on the organization, and what the consequences will be if expectations are not met.

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