Ultimate Multi-Tasking: The Art of Managing People from Multiple Generations

If you look at your team and see people who represent several generations, you may find yourself with some conflicting thoughts. Is it wise to take each generation into account or is that over-complicated? Is it better to let the employees manage their own age-related perceptions or is it your job to step in and find methods of management that balance generational gaps?

These are tough questions, and relatively new ones. Three distinct generations are at work in most offices today, sometimes even four. There are the Baby Boomers (born after 1945), Generation X (1961 – 81) and Generation Y, often called the Millennials (1982 to the present). Here is a practical guide to dealing with age diversity in your workplace.

Identity and Age in the Workplace

First, recognize that age and perception do matter. As tech-savvy and open-minded as a Baby Boomer may want to be, it is not easy for an older person to watch the young generation come into a workplace. These days, there are fewer age-related boundaries as well—often older people report to people years younger. The Generation X employee should be the most at peace with age differences, being in the middle, though this generation does have some recognized attributes you can assess. The Generation Y person will want to be taken seriously and may feel both awkwardness and impatience in dealing with older employees. Generation Y employees tend to expect equal treatment from day one on the job.

Productive Attributes of Each Generation

Second, appreciate the value of each generation’s experience and perceptions. As the post-WWII generation, Baby Boomers value hard work, loyalty and security in employment. Of course, they also have historical perspective concerning the company, if they have worked there for years, or the nature of their job. They tend to prefer formal ways of communicating, such as face to face meetings, phone calls or emails. While Baby Boomers tend to have tough work ethics, Generation Xers prefer a balance between work and home life.

Those of Generation X are versatile when it comes to technology, readily able to use both older and newer methods, and generally more adaptable. Those of Generation Y are similar to Gen-X, except they have lived their entire lives with technology. They can be less patient with communication that is not instantaneous, yet they are great multi-taskers thanks to their wired mentality. Like gen-Xers, they prefer a balanced lifestyle, but some may go even further in pushing for flexibility in their working hours. Generation Y is confident, and of course, they represent the technological workplace of the future.

Ideas for Employee Interactions

Here are a few ideas which may assist you in dealing with generation gaps.

  • Partner employees for certain projects in ways that utilize their contrasting differences. For instance, pair a Baby Boomer with a Generation Y employee. Assign the Baby Boomer the task of presenting perspective and creating a goal. Assign the Y employee a task related to technological follow-through.
  • Partner employees on either extreme with one from Generation X. Those in Generation X represent the middle, and they are generally versatile. Use them to bridge gaps.
  • Use several meetings or relaxed office days to discuss generational differences with your group. Let your employees air their opinions. Sometimes simply stating the obvious, such as the age difference between 25 and 65, relieves tensions and brings some refreshing humor. Perhaps those on your team are anti-stereotype and push themselves to step outside of the usual bounds. You can use that to your advantage also.

Taking it Day by Day

The best overall tip for dealing with generational gaps is this: take generational gaps seriously. Regardless how creative a person is, there are realities of one's generation which tend to create specific ways of thinking. The technologies a person experiences during childhood, the business world that predominates during one's first ten years of employment, social perceptions of the economy during one's lifetime—these factors and more do have effects on us. As a manager dealing with employees who represent multiple generations, remain sensitive to the perspectives these ages represent. All in all, there is one point that truly unites everyone from age 22 to 68—we are the first to live in such a highly educated and multi-generational workforce in America.

Links above refer to some of the programs offered by the University of Notre Dame, Mendoza College of Business where Jason is affiliated.  If you have questions about those programs, click here or connect with Jason.

Photo - © Sergej Khackimullin - Fotolia.com

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