How to Embrace a Multigenerational Workplace with Innovation

“85% of companies state that they come up with innovative ideas and solutions thanks to an age-diverse team.” Global Report Impact of a Multigenerational Workforce by Randstad Workmonitor Q2 2018

Many companies are aggressively pursuing younger workers. Cos they’re agile, fast moving and super tech savvy. Amazon and Facebook itself are among hundreds of employers facing a U.S. lawsuit alleging they used Facebook to host age-based ads to recruit new employees.

The pursuit and glorification of a youthful workplace has a grim downside. You only need look at the bro culture infesting Silicon Valley right now. Fact is, at the root of this poor work culture are young and inexperienced men. At least, that’s what Dan Lyons suggests in the New York Times. Ageism is alive and well, and not just in Hollywood, but also in corporate life.

So, how can you, dear Manager, steer clear of this and make the most of a multigenerational workforce?

What’s a Multigenerational Workforce Anyway?

A multigenerational workforce is defined as one in which a number of generations coexist. Never before have we seen what we’re now seeing: five generations bunched together.

It’s unprecedented. And it’s challenging. But managing the challenge is vital to your organization’s success and absolutely pivotal for innovation.

For sure, workplace generational diversity can cause problems. But a multigenerational workforce can also give a company a competitive advantage. It creates opportunities for people to learn from one another and hear different perspectives on the same ideas. This wide range of ideas and knowledge from a broad group of people serves a company well. It helps employees excel in their work. All-directions mentoring can occur, creating more collaboration and engagement. Indeed, companies are documented to become more creative and innovative with multigenerational workforces.

The big question is, how do you achieve this collaboration across the generations?

Busting the Stereotypes

First up, you need to understand the stereotypes about each generation’s work ethics, ways of working and expectations.

Traditionalists, for example, are seen as frugal, rule-loving, old-fashioned and tech-challenged. But, dear Manager, Traditionalists are loyal and possess a strong work ethic. And they have unparalleled experience with an unspoken knowledge that a newcomer can’t replicate. They can reach back into their wealth of know-how and historical observations.

Babyboomers are viewed as out of touch and disinterested in learning new things. But they’re actually the most productive groups of their organizations. Boomers are “hardworking”, team players and great mentors. They have much to teach junior employees about business intuition.

To many, Gen Xers are cynical loners who make poor team members. But given the right motivations, they make superb team players. Survivors of adversity, Gen Xers are equipped with the adaptability and resilience needed to deal with rapid uncertainties. This is a connected generation, comfortable with tech in work. Not too shabby - ehh?

Millenials, noted for their entitlement, impatience and laziness, cop the worst rap. But they do have the tech chops. They’ve grown up with it and are better placed to understand what’s going on in a fast-changing world. They’re enthusiastic and not adverse to ‘reverse mentoring’.

Crossing the Generational Divide

To make a multigenerational workplace gel, you need to get past the stereotypes. It’s tempting to say they exist for a reason. But reasons don’t make them true. The stereotypes are unhelpful and cause misunderstandings in the workplace. But managing a multigenerational workforce is about more than looking past the stereotypes, it’s about looking inwards, checking your own biases and embracing diversity. Generally, these 5 pieces of advice should get you far:

  • Assume nothing - your workforce are all individuals, no matter their age.
  • Stop using labels - stereotypes of each generation are sometimes plain wrong. Label your workers and you risk alienating them.
  • Check your bias - seeing past the stereotypes is not easy. Be aware of judgments working at a subconscious level.
  • Focus on individuals - amplify their strengths, help them to work on areas of weakness. Match the energy of the individual with the energy of the organization.
  • Embrace the unique strengths of each - give an equal opportunity to all employees, regardless of generation. Encourage older generations to share their experience and knowledge. Use your Gen Xer as the middle person to bridge the generation gap. Help your Millenial continue to innovate, without overlooking the basics.

Final Thoughts

The multigenerational workplace ain’t a fleeting phenomenon. It’s here to stay and you shouldn’t ignore it. Even as Traditionalists retire you will have Gen Alpha coming into your workforce. And Gen Z are waiting in the wings. The 50+ expect to work longer than any previous generation. You need to get to grips with this dramatic shift and realize the best teams are built on the strengths of all the generations in the workplace. So get with the program, Dear Manager. Set your sights on a multigenerational workforce and quit with the youth obsession.

Is your company looking for a way to encourage collaboration across the generations? How bout trying out our app (pssst... we have free trials on all plans).

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