We’ve been hearing these labels for years: “Baby Boomers,” “Gen Xers” and so on. Ever since the concept of generational groups was developed in the early 90’s as a marketing tool to identify and understand potential customers, we’ve been grouping people into specific age brackets for many reasons. It’s generally believed that those who grew up under a similar time and circumstance often share similar attitudes and behaviors like work ethic, technological adaptation, worldviews, and opinions on authority (i.e., Boomers offer solid work principles, Gen Xers have great personal initiative, Millennials strive for cultural diversity, Gen Z are natural technology whizzes). To recognize the positives — and negatives — of a multigenerational workforce is to understand their mindset, determine their value systems, see beyond their labels and ultimately, harness their best qualities to create a diverse, collaborative team culture.
“Boomers” are willing to take on responsibility and are known to competently handle any crisis that arises. They value consensus leadership, are loyal to their careers and employers and have a strong work ethic. They are also distrustful of the ‘establishment’ and are likely to challenge authority when it doesn’t make sense to them.
Boomers like visual displays of accomplishments for hard work (awards, certificates) and title recognition; if they feel valued then they’ve achieved success. Monetary gifts are also rewarding for this group so gift cards, or points towards coveted merchandise will always be well-received.
Gen Xers have a highly self-sufficient mindset; these resourceful self-starters place a premium on independence. Although they are very results-driven, they still seek to obtain a fair work/life balance. But, similar to Boomers, they lack trust in institutions, are not impressed by authority figures and can have tendencies to ignore leadership.
This group is most motivated by a hands-off leadership style but looks for regular feedback; they highly prize individual freedoms and working in environments less constrained by rules. Their commodity is time, so rewarding them with extra paid time off from work and experiential gifts are appreciated.
Millennials seek out direction and help from leadership to achieve their own personal goals. They’re at ease working in teams and are loyal to their peers. Culturally, they are aware of multiple nationalities and actively seek diversity. They are very open to new ideas, are optimistic and extremely adaptable to changing technologies. However, Millennials are ambitious, but can be perceived as self–absorbed, and lacking focus.
Being an achievement-oriented group, Millennials appreciate workplace challenges that provide opportunities for them to shine, and they value the acknowledgement and recognition that accompanies that. They appreciate more intangible rewards like flexible work schedules and job-sharing. Being a socially conscious group, they appreciate sustainable rewards and paid time off for community involvement.
Solving problems that improve the world is extremely important to Gen Zers and they place a premium on connectivity and communication to do so. They use “crowd-sourcing” — obtaining info from many sources and social platforms — to stay “dialed-in." They highly prize the opportunity to express themselves individually and volunteer for causes they deem crucial, while avoiding segregation and exclusion of any kind.
Gen Zers are often more realistic than idealistic and are sometimes regarded as more skeptical than previous generations. Because of the heavy technological influence in their formative years, they may also lack personal critical-thinking skills and believe that problems can only be solved using technology.
Rewarding Gen Zers is a bit more cerebral than for other generations. Gen Z wants recognition of how their workplace contributions make a difference both locally and globally. And, similar to Millennials, they also value a definitive line between work and personal life, so a healthy company respect for boundaries is attractive to them.
For more information on generational rewards, here's an article on How to Reward Employees with Different Types of Organizational Culture.
At first glance it may seem that the differences in a multigenerational workforce could create conflict in your workplace. But the reverse actually happens: when well-managed, there are plenty of opportunities for every segment to make a significant contribution to the team and foster an inclusive team culture. In addition to tips on Engaging a Multigenerational Workforce, here are a few employee engagement strategies you can try:
Individual skills and experiences can be shared in any direction. Boomers and Gen Xers can provide mentoring to younger generations, giving them insights gained from years of experience, trial and error, and process improvements. And Gens Y and Z can offer reverse-mentoring to their senior counterparts on the latest technological developments, current digital trends and tips on how to communicate effectively with younger people.
Additionally, challenging each other offers ways to remain fresh and innovative: “shaking things up” can prevent stagnation. The younger generation may see that revisiting or refreshing strategies that have worked well in the past can be worthwhile. And older generations can be tasked to see beyond the notion that “this is the way we’ve always done it, why change now?” Leveraging opposing views can spark creative solutions to any given issue.
Channeling everyone toward a common goal reduces the mentality of “us” and “them.” Continually emphasizing a mutual goal that transcends generations serves to unite rather than divide, creating inclusivity and strong bonds. When approaching a shared challenge, a single-minded focus allows the team to see the bigger picture, rather than fixating on individual differences.
Considering the wide range of generational skews and angles when developing solutions ensures all bases are covered and genuinely inclusive results are produced. One generation may not be aware of challenges faced by another, so listening to the entire range of voices — and including their individual perspectives — gives your company a diversity superpower.
The most obvious disparity among the generations lies in the area of social media and technology. Boomers and Xers are slow to adapt to or appreciate the constant connectedness of later generations. They feel moderation is more practical when technology is concerned — they are very wary of the compulsion to be ‘reachable’ 24/7. Gens Y and Z are quick to hop on the latest digital trends, are completely comfortable using a variety of digital devices, and appreciate access to cutting-edge technology to get things done.
There are benefits to adopting both approaches: Older generations know that there’s still value in the “personal touch” of a handwritten Thank You note, or that face-to-face interactions are crucial to staying top-of-mind. They know that being engaged in real-life pleasures like reading a book or shopping at a bricks and mortar store can provide balance. Younger generations know that technology can make your job significantly easier, they understand the power of harnessing input from a vast audience, and firmly believe using social media can help you stay connected to the world at large. The Ultimate Guide to Managing a Multigenerational Workforce can give you even more insight.
In the end, if we can see beyond the preconceived notions of each differing generation — and the labels society has placed on them — we stand to learn so much from each other when we collaborate and work together with shared understanding. And, in the process we may learn more about ourselves, as well.