Organizations today are increasingly grappling with the issue of managing multiple generations in the workplace. Today’s workforce comprises four generations spanning more than 60 years. Each generation has different sets of beliefs, values, attitudes, and expectations resulting in differences in their working styles, attitudes towards rewards and recognition, loyalties towards the organization and perceptions of work life balance. These differences, when not proactively managed, leads to increased stress, frustration and conflict in the workplace.
Given the extent of globalization, advances in technology and changing economic landscapes, organizations have to ensure inclusion of all generations as each one brings its own unique skills, capabilities and perspectives to the workplace. Creating increased awareness on the value of diversity and making people aware about the differences in work preferences and communication styles of each generation is the first step towards tackling this issue.
Generational conflicts are mostly due to errors of attribution and perception than valid differences. What mostly prevents employees from recognizing each other’s valuable contributions are stereotypes and biases about generational characteristics. In reality, all generations essentially have similar values in the sense that everyone wants to be trusted and respected. Generations differ only in how they demonstrate respect, offer and receive feedback, and prefer to learn. Organization should work towards sensitising people towards the similarities across generations and provide platforms to open up dialogue among co-workers. Workshops focused on developing teamwork and leadership skills across generations and tapping into “emotional intelligence” to better understand the underlying values of each generation are some suggested interventions. Mentoring and reverse mentoring greatly help by mutually benefiting older and younger generations. They facilitate knowledge transfer between generations and create informal platforms for individuals to interact.
Post retirement consulting options, phased retirement and rehearsal retirement programs which allow older workers to take unpaid sabbaticals are policies which allow the baby boomers to work past retirement thereby helping tackle the baby boomer retirement issue. Such policies also provide new openings to Gen X and Y, and aide as rehearsal opportunities for them to transition into larger roles. Increased volunteer opportunities, ‘bring your family to work’ initiatives, fun at work concepts and sabbaticals are some initiatives suggested for the younger generations.
It is indeed a challenge to keep all employees equally engaged and motivated given their varied preferences. However, across all generations there is an increased need to ease lifestyle challenges and increase emotional and physical well being. Within this context, policies such flexible scheduling including part-time work, temporary positions, job sharing, and telecommuting and wellness benefits to accommodate individual preferences regarding work styles and work-life balance appeal to most generations.
Organizations need to be flexible enough to adapt their policies, processes, reward systems, leadership and communication styles to accommodate these multiple generations. Given that it is for the first time in history that so many generations are working together, how to manage this situation is indeed a learning curve for most organizations. However, through a combination of policy changes and appropriate interventions, most progressive organizations are successfully tackling the issue, thereby setting an example others too can follow.