A 60-something instructor at a major university was working on a project with an undergraduate student. The student complimented the instructor on her proficiency with technology. The student thought he was paying a compliment to the instructor. The instructor was offended because she believed the implication was that her skills were good “for someone her age,” playing into the stereotype that all Baby Boomers struggle with technology. Little did the student know that the instructor serves on the boards of several technology companies and is a former CEO of a tech company.
For the first time, there are four (and soon to be five) generations in the workforce, each with its preconceived notions, attitudes, mindsets and life experiences. How companies and organizations deal with these differences and build a team that gels will be a major determinant in their success.
While policies and benefits that match your workforce’s interests and needs are important, effective communication may be the single most important way to truly engage and motivate workers and build bridges across generations. Here are three quality of lifehacks tips for using communications to build connections:
- Make sure your managers are aware of differences in their workforce and prepared to communicate effectively. Give them information about the habits and preferences of different generations. For example, research shows that Millennials value a fun work environment more than Boomers or Gen Xers. Gen X cares about work-life balance more than other generations do. But make sure your managers don’t get caught up in stereotypes. The first rule of good communication is to know your audience, and managers need to take the time to understand their people, where they are in their life/work journey and what makes them tick.
- Set up cross-generational mentoring programs. Whether that is a defined program that matches up younger workers with more experienced ones in one-on-one relationships or making a deliberate effort to build mixed-age project teams, look for ways for the different generations in your workforce to learn from and engage with one another.
- Tailor your communications methods to your audience’s preferences. A “one-size-fits-all” approach no longer works because people are used to receiving information in different ways in their personal lives. Millennials who have grown up in an “always on” environment might prefer to receive information more frequently in short bursts via text message or email. Boomers might prefer more in-depth information, delivered with less frequency via face-to-face meetings. When possible, consider a “bite, snack, meal” approach to communications that gives people choices over whether they want to consume a little bit of information about a topic, like a picture and a caption, or dig deeper via an intranet story or area of focus in a team meeting.
Ultimately, managing generational differences in the workplace is all about fostering mutual respect. It’s about creating an environment where people understand and appreciate various points of view and different demands on people’s time based on their life situation.
What tips do you have for successfully managing a multi-generational workforce?