Managing the Multigenerational Workplace

“Those who criticize our generation forget who raised it.”  ― Unknown

Throughout my professional career working for multinational companies around the world, I have seen the evolution of the workplace. This change has not only included the new professionals joining the workforce, but also the veterans as people are living longer and economic conditions are requiring many people to continue working past the traditional age of retirement.

For the first time in many decades the workplace has four generations working together. What this means for organizations is that they have had to deal with four sets of expectations, motivations, attitudes, behaviors and communication styles. That’s a lot of complexity and we haven’t even considered the upcoming Generation Z, or the cultural differences among the Matures, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials that make up our current local and global work environments.

On a daily basis employees and managers continue to wrestle with typical work issues such as timelines, quality control, cost issues and risk management.  Yet, organizations find the need to develop additional leadership competencies. Managing the multigenerational workplace has moved to the forefront of many discussions about organizational success.

To many individuals, the generational gap is a set of stereotypes about one or more generations. This is one of the main factors that fuels certain types of conflicts in the workplace. To avoid this, organizations need to prepare employees and managers to develop and master a new capability: the generational competence, which fits squarely under soft skills (leadership). The generational competence term was coined by Seitel (2005) and is described as the adaptations that organizations and individuals must make in order to meet the diverse needs of the four generations in today’s workforce.

There is a common belief that generations are defined by age when in reality generations are defined by common experiences and key events that happen during their formative years. These factors drive people to focus on values and beliefs about communication styles, need for feedback, commitment, personal gratification and internal motivation which are all reflected in the workplace.

ManPowerGroup’s analysis of the United Nations population data shows that the two younger generations (Millennials and Gen Z) will outnumber the two older generations (Gen X and Baby Boomers) in 2020, which most likely will be a similar reflection of the workplace at that time.

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The year 2020 is around the corner and organizations and individuals need to continue to prepare for the new adaptations in the workplace. You can start now by utilizing the following cross-generational strategies:

Understand more and judge less

Although we often think about generations in terms of age, each generation is defined much more by common experiences than birth year. Understanding the key drivers and events that have molded a group’s behavior in each generation will help you understand more and judge less.

Embrace change

Generations and cultures both evolve over time.. In general, cultures evolve slowly due to environmental changes, technological advances, economies and interactions. Generations, on the other hand, will always be in a more rapid state of flux.

Develop generational competency

Generational competency is absolutely necessary in organizations, as well as in an individual’s portfolio of soft skills. Look for educational and professional endeavors that focus on developing competencies that will help you to meet the diverse needs of all generations in the workplace of the future.

Focus on relevance

Do not equate “different” with “bad.” Organizations and individuals must strive to modify behaviors and expectations where possible in order to be as relevant a leader as possible to each generation and to reap the benefits of the diverse workplace in which we find ourselves today.

ConradoMorlanProject Manager

An experienced global portfolio, program and project manager with more than 20 years of experience. His specialties include aligning projects with organizational strategy for multinational companies and leading virtual and co-located multicultural and multigenerational teams in the Americas and Europe. When Conrado is not blogging for DBS or PMI’s Voices on Project Management,  you can find Conrado hitting the asphalt in major US marathons, supporting US Men and Women’s national soccer teams, or at a race track watching an F1 Grand Prix around the world.