Working in a Diverse Multi-Generational Workplace

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Multi-generational workplace

Thriving in a generationally diverse workplace

Millennials are slowly taking over the workplace. With smart technologies and purpose, we are witnessing more and more young people heading departments and companies, a phenomenon that was preserved for more seasoned workers, a few decades ago. Currently, the workforce is made up of people from multiple generations including, baby boomers, generation Xers, millennials, and generation Z.

All these people bring different sets of skills and work ethics to the workplace. They have diverse core values, communication styles and differ in how they give and receive feedback. As such it is important for you as an individual to take steps to ensure that your workplace is harmonious, the differences in age notwithstanding.

Challenges of working in a multi-generational workplace

With people spanning across a few generations, ranging from the ages of 20 years to 60 years in the workplace, there are bound to be some challenges, including:

Communication challenges

Communication breakdown

Apart from having different communication styles, there is also the challenge of channels of communication used by different generations. The older generation prefers using formal means of communication such as emails and meetings, and use of formal language. Later generations use any form of communication that is available to them including social media and chat apps like Slack. They also prefer using informal language, as long as the message is passed across.

The challenge comes in when people from the different generations, with their unique ways of communication, have to work together and communicate regularly.

Work ethic

Work ethic

Most people from older generations swear by the principle of being present at one’s desk from 8 am to 5 pm. On the extreme end are millennials who believe in getting the job done, whenever, wherever. Their only aim is to deliver a good job and do it on time.

Work ethic brings conflict as people from the various generations have different ways of working and defining how work should be done. This situation is further complicated by the fact that all the people in an organisation need to work together towards the same goal.

Expectations

Unrealistic expectations

Expectations bring conflict in most workplaces because people have different ways of defining success. However, when generational gap comes in, the problem is further compounded. Young people are said to be experimental and are more inclined to take risks and challenge the status-quo. They are disruptive and to them, nothing is cast in stone.

However, people who have been there for many years and experienced the tried and tested ways will want to stick to the sure path and are generally risk-averse. They are sometimes not open to drastic change and this can make it hard to work together.

Strategies for a fruitful multi-generational workforce

A multi-generational workforce brings in diverse experience and set of skills, which if well harnessed, can be useful in building a successful workplace. As such, it is important, as an individual, to create harmony with your older or younger colleagues using the following strategies:

Do not stereotype

Just like in society, stereotypes create unnecessary conflicts. It is common to hear people saying that millennials do not know how to use proper channels of communication and are impatient, or that baby boomers hate technology and are inflexible.

However, to ensure that everyone in the workplace works harmoniously, it is important to treat each person as an individual and deal with them at an individual level.

Examine what each person’s style of working is, what experience, knowledge and skills they bring on board. Additionally, people will treat you like you treat them so if you cultivate a genuine working relationship, you will be able to experience the best from everyone.

Be respectful

Respect

In a world where young people are increasingly finding themselves in leadership positions, and sometimes in positions where they lead people older than them, it can be hard to be in charge of people you should, according to society, listen to and take instructions from. In such a situation, you should take the initiative to understand them and learn how to manage older people effectively.

On the other hand, people who are older can feel undermined when younger people take charge of the workplace. They may also feel the need to control young people, which creates hostility.

In a multi-generational workplace, respect is the secret ingredient to an amicable workplace. It is important to respect the skills that a person possesses, despite their age. It is also important to respect each other’s opinions, worldview, perspectives, ways of working and their approach on different things.

For example, marketing is slowly moving digital and while offline advertising is still relevant, there is a need to combine the 2 for maximum results. This can create friction in a situation where generation Xers have to work with millennials yet each generation approaches marketing differently. In such a situation, the most effective way of getting the job done is by learning from each other and respecting what each person offers.

Exercise flexibility

Be flexible

Each generation brings something unique to the table. Each generation has something outstanding that it is identified with, and which other generations can build on. The ability to accommodate each group’s distinctiveness allows you to learn and pick the best practices from each.

Learn what different people from each generation like, what their priorities in life are, what motivates them, how they approach the workplace and learn to flexibly deal with them. This will help in creating an this will help you become more receptive and accommodating.

Flexibility also means that you are willing to learn from what everyone from each generation has to offer. Even if you are a millennial and are up to date with the latest technology, there are still things such as proper communication skills and networking which you can learn from people of the earlier generations. Be open-minded enough to want to gain new skills and accept what other people have to offer.

Creating diverse teams

If you are in management, you can create a favourable working environment by creating multi-generational teams and consciously recruiting people from diverse generations. This encourages people to work together and harness each individual’s skills and talents.

Diverse teams encourage everyone to bring their best skills on board and force people to be patient with each other and rely on each other. It also teaches people to be accommodative of each other’s peculiarities.

Communicate openly and actively

Open communication

Communication is one of the best ways of creating relationships. People from different generational backgrounds communicate differently. For example, while a millennial would rather communicate through social media or chat apps, even for serious things, baby boomers prefer one-one communication using mediums such as telephones and generation Xers prefer to write emails or send text messages.

When communicating with another person, find out how they prefer communicating and use that means of communication to build relationships. Avoid the temptation of only interacting with people from your generation as you will also limit your learning opportunities.

Working in a diverse multi-generational workplace can be rewarding. There are many skills, experiences and unique generational ideas on board. Additionally, each generation brings something different to the table. However, there are likely to be challenges related to expectations, work ethic and communications. All these, thankfully, are issues that can be solved through mutual respect, the creation of diverse teams, open and active communication.

To learn more about multi-generational workplaces, join the BrighterMonday HR forum to be held at the Laico Regency Hotel on 27th January 2017. To book a reservation, contact Catherine on events@brightermonday.co.ke.

Mueke Katwa
I have two years experience in Business Support which covers Human Resource as a function; and a lifelong passion in creative writing.
 

6 COMMENTS

  1. Of course yes but I think the good worker is personal intention, willing and love of what’s he/she are doing neither instructions nor regulations and laws can maintain personal well works

    • Thank you for sharing your sentiments Efraim.
      We value your support and we encourage you to keep on writing to us.

      ^TM

  2. ok i believe communication is the backbone of any organisation.a lot of problems can be avoided by using the right channels despite the generation differences.

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