Managing 4 Gens in One Co
For the first time ever, there are 4 generations of employees, all with their own perspective, styles and expectations, working side by side under one roof especially if your company is big enough. This rare sight is due to Baby Boomers (in their 50s and 60s) who are continuing to work past their retirement age and the first batch of the Gen Z Internet Babies (1995 – 2012) entering the workforce. Often in multi-generational companies, cross-gen blame attacks are common – “These Baby Boomers are too old-fashioned” or “The Millenials just want things too quickly”.
These differences often create misunderstandings, stereotypes and even conflicts. Most Baby Boomers are close to retirement and Gen X (1966 – 1980) is the generation of leaders waiting in the wings to replace them (“finally!” according to them). Gen Y (also called the Millenials 1981 -1994) is the fastest growing workforce segment. Gen Z is the generation that probably cannot write very well because as Internet Babies, they know how to swipe an iPad at age of two without much instruction and seldom communicate in complete sentences.
While we don’t know much about Gen Z yet, their presence is too insignificant for now to pose too much managerial problems yet and with the Boomers retiring soon, the key generational managerial problems are typically the clash between Gen X and Gen Y. Most managers who are Gen Xs expect the younger generation to commit equal hard work and often lament that the Gen Y have an unrealistic sense of entitlement. They aspire to climb the career ladder as quickly as possible. Gen Y on the other hand perceives Gen X as old school bunch who are not willing to embrace or champion technology. So, how can we manage such diversity? The answer is to embrace mutual understanding and affinity so as to influence the shifting generational dynamics of the workplace.
Let’s start with the Baby Boomers and Gen X. How can you be a great generational manager? Firstly, you need to understand generational differences in order to reduce the high attrition rates associated with the Gen Y. Recognise that every generation has its assets and liabilities. And yes, recognise your shortcomings too and keep abreast of technological advances. A Gen X that advocates instead of impeding technology is one that Gen Y will appreciate. Secondly, use different communication styles and approaches with different generations. For example, speak face-to-face with Baby Boomers but use social media to speak with and reach out to Gen Y and Z. Thirdly, Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y all value relationship. Creating a system whereby mentor-mentee relationship will lead to Boomers and Gen X sharing experiences and Gen Y learning and getting feedback from a trusted source. Yes, Gen Y are attention-seeking and do require constant guidance and feedback. Fourth, the customisation of incentives that recognise, reward and drive high performance is critical. In fact, my company has successfully leveraged on Gen Y’s short line of sight with regard to remuneration and career progression to our advantage with the introduction of a 3-tier commission structure plus an express 1-year promotion pathways. Lastly, refrain from micro-management (Baby Boomers must especially take note as you are champions of discipline), empower the Gen Y whenever you can.
Next, what if you are a Gen Y, what can you do? Firstly, value and respect Baby Boomers and Gen X’s life experiences and that you can take many cues from them. Secondly, Learn and Grow. Refrain from being the tech-savvy person who can multi-task and find all answers but rather learn how you can contribute to the company. Sometimes, it makes sense to understand things from older colleagues’ perspectives before dismissing the idea completely. Thirdly, earn their respect and trust. The best way to bridge the gap with older colleagues is to earn their respect and trust by performing well at what you do and show them what you can offer at the table. Lastly, share with older colleagues the latest developments of the digital world especially social media skills so that they can champion technology and communicate the way you are more comfortable with. Do not just lament that the existing system is too rigid or structured, awe the older Gen X management with the power of technology and show how these changes can be more productive and flexible instead. Likewise, if you felt strongly about climate change, volunteer rather than wait for change to happen.
In a nutshell, different generations working together can be conducive and harmonious if everyone does their part to build bridges to overcome the gap. With that, regardless of how many generations cone to the same workplace, diversity of values can converge into an affinity that tie all together.