The concept of having a diverse team with differing viewpoints and cultural experiences is nothing new. Having diversity fosters growth, equity, empathy, and new ideas that all voices find value in. The present-day employment landscape is full of top performers with a wide variety of cultural and generational experiences.
Today, it is not unheard of for a business’s workforce to be composed of four (or more) generations. The current workforce is composed primarily of three generations: Baby Boomers, Gen-X, and Millennials. Even though these generations are considered the “Big 3” of the working world, young professionals from Gen-Z are entering the workforce at an increasing rate. This, combined with more and more Baby Boomers transitioning into retirement means that the makeup of the talent pool looks drastically different than it did a few years ago.
The first step in leading a multigenerational workforce is to recognize different generational preferences (Ashley-Hall, 2016).
Often, the cultural differences between different generations can make it challenging for leaders to manage and motivate a multigenerational workforce uniformly. After all, different generations are unique cultures shaped by educational, economic, social, and political contexts (Thompson & Gregory, 2012), and often, the prioritization of a company’s culture, employee benefits, and performance incentive programs are viewed (and valued) differently between professionals of different ages.
In order to effectively lead a multigenerational team, it is important for leaders to understand which components of employment hold significance to each generation, and what expectations different generations have of their employer.
What Does My Team Expect From My Business?
In addition to viewing the balance and fluidity between personal and professional lives differently, different generations also deviate in their expectations regarding job execution as well; this encompasses aspects such as work format/ environment, motivation, team dynamics, types of resources/support required, etc.
Baby Boomers are motivated by having a sense of purpose and secondly, their salary (Lesonsky, 2019, para. 5). On the other hand, Millennials are community-oriented and enjoy being involved; they are usually interested in their organization [as a whole] (Lesonsky, 2019, para. 5). Millennials value their caring characteristic, which pushes them to volunteer or help others (Lesonsky, 2019, para. 5).
Money and passion for their work are motivating factors for Millennials. Regarding the work environment, Millennials appreciate the opportunity to work from home, and will often be more creative when given the opportunity to work remotely. Conversely, other generations, (Gen X and Baby Boomers) prefer a more traditional work office space (Lesonsky, 2019, para. 6). When millennials are working on-site, they prefer a more open floor plan and stand up desks.
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What Does My Team Expect from Leadership?
Beyond differences in work format, professionals of different generations also have differing preferences in their communication style. As a leader, these differences, combined with the ever-changing technology landscape and individual personalities can make coaching in the moment challenging. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to successful communication. However, there are similarities between professionals of the same generation in their communication styles and how they prefer to be communicated with.
Previous research completed by Lester et al., investigated preferences of communication styles across three different generations. Their research has supported that Baby Boomers have a strong desire for formal feedback, face-to-face interaction and value teamwork.
Generation X tended to evade unnecessary face-to-face communication and preferred technology-based communication (Lester, et al., 2012). Additionally, Generation X still strongly appreciated direct communication and feedback from leaders (Lester, et al., 2012). Their research also supported that Millennials wanted constant, instantaneous feedback from leaders (Lester, et al., 2012, Sweeney, 2006) with no delays (Sweeney, 2006). Furthermore, all three generations valued face-to-face communication, but Baby Boomers and Generation X valued communication through technology less than their Millennial counterparts (Lester, et al., 2012). Because of these generational differences, organizations need to approach each generation differently to fulfill their communication needs.
How Do I Bridge the Generation Gap?
Organizations and their leaders need to modify practices and expectations in a manner that draws, encourages, and retains all talent of different generations (Thompson & Gregory, 2012).
To bolster effective communication, adding positions like a Diversity and Inclusion Specialist to address generational and cultural differences can prove valuable. Some other actions organizations may consider could be hosting reverse mentoring sessions, age-diverse team-building projects, and educational seminars on respecting others’ differences to help build stronger lines of communication between multigenerational teams and leadership.
The Bottom Line
Understanding generational differences in how different professionals value and prioritize different aspects of their employment is critical to effectively leading a multigenerational team. Understanding these trends is important, but it is also important to not define a team member solely by their age.
The considerations above can be helpful in building a global communication strategy, an employee benefits/incentive program, and company culture that all generations find valuable, but on the micro-level, it is important to cater each of your team members' coaching and professional growth programs to their unique personality and learning style. Using generational trends can help set the tone, but regular communication and strong professional relationships with your team members are the foundational building blocks of corporate success.
- Ashley-Hall, S.F. (2016). Exploring the workplace communication preferences of millennials. Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, 20.
- Lesonsky, R. (2019, June). What different generations want from work. SCORE. Retrieved from https://www.score.org/blog/what-different-generations-want-work