With its oldest members turning 21, post-Millennial Generation Z is breaking into the workforce. (According to the New York Times, trend forecasters often consider Generation Z to start around 1996.) Yes, all those digital natives are starting to roam the halls of corporate America, where they'll likely be joining workmates from other generations. Indeed, many firms in today's world have an employee base that spans four generations: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and now Generation Z.
While some would look at this as a perfect storm of generation gaps, savvy managers view it as a unique opportunity to enhance productivity. Managers who create a respectful and open-minded environment will likely experience a more vibrant workplace and can expect to see a stronger bottom line.
But between generational stereotypes, shifts in how companies operate and different communication preferences, effectively managing this melting pot of viewpoints isn't a simple task. Tension will inevitably flare up from time to time.
Smoothing out these workplace tensions is challenging, but it's far from impossible. Leaders simply need to understand how these strains play out and, most importantly, what steps they can take to reduce the friction.
Easing Generational Tension in the Workplace
Opportunities for tensions at work may arise when you mix generations. It's not atypical to have a 20-something sitting next to a 50-something, taking on the same work. Likewise, it's now commonplace for older employees to be supervised by individuals much younger than them. Another sore spot? Younger workers may feel held back by older employees who are resentful toward or distrusting of a newbie.
—Bob La Loggia, founder and CEO, Appointment Plus
Instead of lamenting negatives, supervisors should put a positive spin on the exciting ways multi-generational workers are transforming the workplace. Allowing experienced workers to get real-world input on the wants and needs of younger generations—and vice versa—can be invaluable. By embracing these differences, productivity gains can be realized in every part of a business, from user interfaces to customer service.
Does age diversity in the workplace guarantee success? Not necessarily. But if it's approached in the right way, it can absolutely help make a positive difference.
Learning to Manage Many Generations
If you're a manager, you'll likely deal with a multi-generational team—most companies do, including mine. That's why I recommend taking several steps to make the most of managing a diverse workforce.
1. Avoid labeling people.
Stop talking about generational differences. Your management goal should be about working with individuals, not talking about those individuals' ages. Doing so will make the age gap less important to your team and help remove related stigmas. Instead, your employees can place their focus elsewhere, like on working as a cohesive group rather.
2. Look for commonalities.
Encourage everyone—company leaders and employees—to embrace what they share, not what divides them. Not only does this build collaboration, but it also helps build trust across generations. You might be surprised at how much commonality exists between a Baby Boomer and a Generation Z-er who share a love of motorcycles and gardening.
3. Set up informal mentoring opportunities.
Younger and older employees can mentor one another in unique ways. Generation Z was weaned on technology; a member of that group may be the perfect go-to person for general internet- or smartphone-related questions. Similarly, a Gen X-er or Baby Boomer might be able to give significant insight on career growth based on his or her wealth of expertise.
4. Let all employees explore their leadership chops.
When planning project staffing, try to mix and match employees of all generations based on the unique skill sets they bring to the table. The more chances they have to broaden their horizons, the less the age differences will matter.
5. Avoid a one-size-fits-all managerial approach.
It's OK to manage people differently based on their goals, abilities, and strengths, as long as you stay within human resources parameters. Evaluate employees based on who they are, not based on the generation they belong to.
Who wants to visit an ice cream shop that only has one flavor? Variety truly is the spice of life, so start seeing your co-workers for the flavor they bring to your office—and you may just see your team's productivity rise.