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Managing a multigenerational workforce

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According to George Orwell, ‘every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.

Employees’ expectations and values are directly related to their success in the workplace. Because of the diverse spread of generations currently in the workforce, expectations and values vary considerably from each employee to the next.

The best managers will take into full consideration the characteristics and life experiences that shape employees’ behaviour, including their generational influences. Although it is a common perception that employees’ expectations surround extrinsic variables, intrinsic motivators are equally as important. Employers must realise how important it is to understand their employees are a diverse and complex group of people possessing different needs and wants.

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Let us have a bird’s-view of the characteristics of different generations in the workplace. Firstly we have baby boomers. The generation of baby boomers loosens up a little on the structure. But still, they prefer some sort of scaffolding within the organisation. They’re cautious about change but they are not afraid to challenge rules.

The thing about boomers is they’ll make life hell if, in their view, you’re mismanaging them. They won’t suffer in silence, but they won’t necessarily confront their issues directly either. They are used to sharing with their peers. They will make sure everybody knows if they’re not happy with “da boss” and make “boss” a real four-letter word.

Well during recruitment and orientation: Let them know their experience will be valued. Boomers have put in their time, and they want to know they’ll get credit for, and respect for, their accomplishments; Focus on challenges.

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Boomers want to solve problems and turn things around: “We really need your talent here, Godfrey.” Boomers often need development in strategic planning, budgeting, coaching skills, and all the “soft stuff.” To motivate this generation, in your leadership role, you need to take time for conversation.

Find opportunities to become better personally acquainted; Give them perks—a company car, corner office, or a more flexible schedule. In managing their performance, coach them tactfully; if you’re blaming, they’re not listening; be nice.

Generation X prefers flexibility and isn’t afraid to challenge or change rules. They lived through an age of disruption, and they’re likely bringing an element of this into the workplace. They also have a different perspective on change.

Change is an opportunity, not a problem to fix. Unlike the Boomers who put a new spin on it, turning it into “work equals self-fulfillment,” Generation X learned that work is no guarantee of survival, that corporations can throw you out of your job without warning, logic, or even an apology, and that work is often mindless, dull, and exhausting.

It is said that information equals power. Insomuch as this is true, Generation-X should be wielding more and more power because they’re far more adept than the older generation at accessing information. Generation X managers tend to be fair, competent, and straightforward leaders. They are inclined to create a conglomeration of circles of people into “campus cultures,” complete with recreational opportunities.

Review your overall employee motivation package. Xers may not be all that anxious to get perks, but they resent it when others get visible expensive recognition. It smacks of the worst kind of corporate politics, the old boy network went haywire, and it’s likely to send Xer employees running for the exits.

Millennials veer the workplace into even more fluidity and flexibility. Millennials like autonomy and independence. They also generally create new rules when they don’t like the existing ones. Millennials are motivated by purpose and impact. For millennials, that intrinsic motivation for work can be a must-have.

Consider the following rules of engagement for your millennial workers and how to put them into practice. Your millennial employees will be more productive, and effective, and stay with you longer if they: see themselves as connected to, and part of, the organization; are given opportunities to problem solve with their colleagues; connect their contributions with their own and the company’s goals; feel valued, respected, and rewarded for their contributions; develop social and professional relationships within the organisation.

Multi-generational workforces require managers to use multiple management styles because each generation, like each person, is unique. Managers should keep in mind that age is not the only factor that differentiates employees from one another. An employee’s success depends upon the efforts put forth by their managers to know each individual well enough to understand their strengths, weaknesses, and needs on the job.

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