Don't try to make the employees fit into your system, adapt your system to your employees
More and more generations will come together in the workplace. Use the generations as clues, not absolutes. Clues on how you lead, communicate, train, sell. The better understanding we have of the generations, the better it works for them and for your organisation.
The life expectancy increases every year: in 1900 it was 31 years, 100 years later it has grown to 72 years, due to all technological and medical developments. And experts think that the human being who can reach 150 years of age has already been born. With the increase in life expectancy, it is to be expected that the time we work will also increase. The result will be a greater diversity of generations in the workplace.
According to Jenkins, generations are clues, not absolutes. Clues on how you lead, communicate, train, sell. So the better understanding we have of the generations, the better we are able to reduce or remove the friction. Or put differently: the better understanding, the better it is for your employees and your organisation.
WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH IT?
It is clear that this development is here to stay: we will encounter more generations in the workplace, that generations differ in needs and interests and as an organisation, you have to adapt. Don't hold on to the current way of recruiting, motivation, managing, employee benefits etc. It might fit the 'older' generations, it won't fit the new ones. So don't try to make the employees fit into your system, adapt your system to your employees.
HOW DO YOU DO THAT?
To help you, here are 5 steps to consider:
1. Don’t dwell on differences
The Boomer mystified by Facebook; the Millenial who wears flip-flops in the office; the Traditionalist (born prior to 1946) who seemingly won’t ever retire; the cynical Gen Xer who’s only out for himself; and the Gen 2020er — born after 1997 — who appears surgically attached to her smartphone. Generational stereotypes abound but they just don't apply to everyone. There is no evidence that 35-year-old managers today are any different from 35-year-old managers a generation ago. Besides, your goal is to help your team 'move beyond the labels'. Generation-based employee affinity groups are a waste of time and energy. Don’t assume people need special treatment and 'don’t dwell on differences with a group discussion that devolves into: ‘People my age feel like this.’ Or ‘All Boomers act a certain way.’ There’s a lot of variation and get to know each person individually. Use the clues, don't make them absolutes.
2. Build collaborative relationships
While it may seem daunting to manage someone much older than you, try taking a cue from the military. The U.S. Marine Corps routinely puts 22-year-old lieutenants in charge of 45-year-old sergeants. The mindset is to make that person your partner and involve them in everything you do. You’re still the boss and the one making the decisions, but you should hear them out. A collaborative approach works well when managing workers who are in their 20s, too. They are used to discussion and engagement because that’s what they had in the college environment. Help your employees make the transition from school to the workplace by encouraging debate. You don’t necessarily need to take their advice, but be aware that this is where they’re coming from.
3. Study your employees
Just as you would research a new product or service, you need to study the demographics of your current workforce and the projected demographics of your future workforce to determine what they want out of their jobs as these things are different generation to generation. If your company conducts an annual survey of vision and values, add new questions to the mix, such as queries about your employees’ preferred communication style and planned professional paths. Then use that information to look critically at your human resources and business strategies. Figure out 'What matters to different sets of employees' and 'What can you do [to attract younger or more experienced workers?' It’s a low cost way to get a pulse on generational career issues.
4. Create opportunities for cross-generational mentoring
Reverse or reciprocal mentoring programs, which pair younger workers with seasoned executives to work on specific business objectives usually involving technology, are increasingly prevalent in many offices. The younger person — who grew up with the internet — teaches the older person about the power of social media to drive business results. Meanwhile, the more experienced employee shares institutional knowledge with the younger worker. Use both strengths. Mixed-age work teams are another way to promote cross-generational mentoring. Studies show that colleagues learn more from each other than they do from formal training, which is why it is so important to establish a culture of coaching across age groups. In mixed-age teams, mentoring relationships develop more naturally. Older folks are more likely to fall into a mentor role and help the young employees. Meanwhile, young people often find it easier to take advice from an experienced worker than from one of their peers because they’re not competing in the same way.
5. Consider life paths
When it comes to inspiring and incentivising employees who are much older or much younger than you, it helps to think like an anthropologist. Consider where your employees are in their lives and what their needs are. Younger people, for instance, typically don’t have many outside obligations; work-wise, they are motivated by new experiences and opportunities. Employees in their 30s and 40s, on the other hand, often have children and mortgages and are in need of flexibility as well as money and advancement. Workers at the end of their careers are probably not as interested in training, but they do want interesting work and work-life balance. Understanding the characteristics around these predictable life paths will help you figure out how best to divvy up work assignments and also the best ways to manage and motivate your team.
ABOUT THE EXPERT
Ryan Jenkins is an American Next-Gen Speaker and author of various books about the youngest generations of millennials and Generation Z. Although Jenkins' style is clearly American, his message is universal: working with and leading the youngest generations is different. So get used to it and make use of it!