Today’s workplace is generationally diverse. Thanks to extended retirement ages and the increase in knowledge economy jobs, we are working for longer and so people in their 60s and 70s are working alongside new university graduates. For employers trying to make sure they have a unified workforce this can present challenges.
The newest generation to enter the workplace has been dubbed Generation Snowflake and so far there’s been few positive things said about them. Considered an entitled and delicate generation, snowflakes are easily offended and in need of constant appraisal. Turn to the positives instead and they are better described as career hungry, flexible, focused and determined.
At the other end of the spectrum are the Baby Boomers who are nearing the end of their working lives but still have lots to give. One of the biggest points of value of this group is in relation to the skills and expertise they’ve honed throughout their careers. While this group won’t have the desire of Generation Snowflake for career progression they are still keen to contribute and share their knowledge.
Building a unified workforce, regardless of its age, relies on strong communication, inclusiveness and respect for each other. Here are five ways to ensuring team unity in your workplace:
1. Mentoring and knowledge transfer
Recognise the value that everyone offers in the workplace. Older members of the team will have a lifetime of experience that can be drawn upon. As Snowflakes are so keen for mentoring, appraisal and training there is a real opportunity to pair younger members of the team with older mentors. This will offer a guiding hand and also provide an opportunity for knowledge transfer and skills honing before older generations leave the workplace all together.
2. Culture and shared purpose
Make sure your company goals and vision are well defined and shared with the team. This should be the common thread that unites your workforce as a whole, regardless of age or experience. Shared values are important. This is helped further by creating positive reasons to bring the whole team together. These might include hosting company events and and celebrating joyful business and team occasions.
3. Communication styles
Although it may sound clichéd, there is a difference in the preferred communication styles of older and younger workers. The younger generations (Snowflakes and Y Generations) prefer short instant messaging such as tweets and texts (and the shortened language that comes with that) while Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers are more likely to prefer emails and phone calls. Where possible find ways to bring multi-generational employees members together for meetings or team building exercise so that the focus is on face-to-face communication. This will help to break down some of the communication barriers and find common ground.
4. Don’t assume
Discussions surrounding generational divides are always based on generalities and stereotypes. Words such as lazy, entitled and tech-obsessed are often used to describe youngsters, while older generations are described as ‘past it’, un-trainable or luddites. Give too much stock to these ‘badges’ and you will breed disharmony and discord in the workplace. Treat every member of your team based on their merits and skills and actively discourage the use of stereotypes.
5. Manage expectations
Take into account that different generations have a different relationship with the world of work and therefore different expectations. Younger workers put more stock on work life balance and are more likely to embrace flexible and remote working, as long as the job gets done. Older generations may find this a difficult notion, preferring to be in the office for set hours and viewing their performance and contribution in those terms. In these instances it pays to allow individuals to adopt the work style that best suits them and to ensure that line managers acknowledge their individual efforts and outcomes, rather than work styles.
In summary, the workforce is diverse. Today’s workforces need to be flexible, committed and responsive to the needs of their employer regardless of which generation they’re from. While meeting the needs of such different groups is complex, it pays to take the time to understand what makes them tick and to get it right. A unified multi-generational workforce has a lot of value to give – the challenge is in harnessing that power.