While more than one generation in a workplace is nothing new, today’s workplace is likely to consist of at least three generations of workers at any time:
- “Baby Boomers” born between the end of WW II and the early 1960’s currently make up the oldest segment of workers now that the “Silent Generation” of World War II has largely disappeared from the workplace.
- Their children (or younger siblings) known as ’”Generation X” are beginning to move into their middle years of their 30’s and early 40’s.
- The youngest group, the “Millennials” (also known as “Gen Y”) are mostly in their early to mid-twenties, recently graduated from college and now entering the workforce.
With such a diversity of experiences, educational levels, skills and expectations, how can HR encourage productivity and intergenerational communication in the workplace while maximizing each worker’s potential?
The Baby Boomers: myth vs reality
Three common myths about older workers, especially those of the “Baby Boom” generation are:
- They don’t like change and are not flexible.
- They can be difficult to motivate.
- They are often technologically behind the times.
While this may be true for some older workers, especially those whose work didn’t involve using computers earlier in their careers, many older workers welcome flexibility as well as the chance to update existing skills or learn new, more relevant skills. For some workers emerging from previous retirement back into the workforce, temporary staffing and flexible schedules allow them to become gradually acclimated back into the workforce.
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- Mixing Millennials and Gen Xers:
Younger workers, dubbed “Generation X” and “Generation Y”, on the other hand, are more likely to have top-notch current technological and social media skills. As with their older counterparts some misperceptions exist:
- They are more interested in the size of their paychecks than loyalty to their organization, making them hard to retain.
- They may lack good ‘soft-skills’, making them less effective with handling customer service or other personnel issues.
- They are sometimes self-centered, creating supervisory challenges.
Understanding what drives each generation can be a key to forging harmonious work relationships, while avoiding most clashes that come when the generations’ differing values and priorities collide. For example, older workers may want more job security, are usually more dedicated to the job and are more likely to stay put, while younger ones prefer flexibility and are willing to start over to find a better job.
Bruce England of Susquehanna Workforce Network recommends that managers evaluate each job candidate as individuals, with unique strengths and perspectives. Doing so reduces turnover of talented workers, whether permanent or temporary, and ensures selecting the best-qualified candidate for a job.
Managers also need to be clear about how their employment needs mesh with workers’ short and long-term employment goals. Not surprisingly, most Millennials and Gen X’ers, for example, are more likely than Boomers to be looking for temp-to-permanent work. On the other hand, employers looking to fill short-term temporary jobs with more emphasis on experience may want to consider hiring a Boomer looking to supplement a pension or reduce work hours to pursue other activities.
Savvy employers who are willing to empower and motivate intergenerational workers – whether temporary or permanent – gain more with ‘outside the box’ creative thinking, better communication, higher employee satisfaction, productivity, and less turn-over.