It’s no surprise that our workforce is changing. If your workplace is like most, a quick glance around the office will likely reveal that there are fewer Baby Boomer workers than in the past and more Gen X and Millennial workers. Canadian Business reports that Millennials are becoming the most sizable working generation in Canada, completely overtaking the other generations of employees.
This shift is not insignificant and represents a meaningful change to companies. While there are many different ways to look at the impact of this change, one of the clearest I’ve found is to simply consider the dynamic - and related tension - that exists as we shift to multi-generational teams. As one of Online’s resident Millennial employees, I thought I’d share five tips to help minimize multi-generational stress in the workplace.
#1 Recognize there are differences among generations
This is the most obvious tip and also the most critical. Too often, we think that we can paint everyone on our team with the same brush. We should recognize that each generation has grown with its own values, priorities, and challenges and that those collective experiences form their workstyles. If we don’t acknowledge that each generation is unique, we can easily fall back on techniques and workstyles that may have been useful in the past but may no longer be as relevant. This starts with you, me, and our team members. We should understand what makes our individual generations different from the others and then look to understand where others are coming from.
#2 Think in the perspective of the other generations you work with
It can be easy to look at certain behaviors of other generations and raise an eyebrow. How often have we heard the Baby Boomers are “stuck in their ways”, Gen X’ers are “slackers”, and Millennials are “self-absorbed”? However, if we really think about what each generation values and has experienced, it becomes easier to understand why they may act in certain ways.
- The Baby Boomers have seen a remarkable amount of technological change, so of course they may be skeptical of yet another new tech tool.
- Generation X really values work-life balance, but having flexibility doesn’t necessarily mean they are not willing to work hard.
- Millennials are generally very confident and technologically-oriented, but that doesn’t mean they are unwilling to be mentored and guided in the right direction.
Thinking in the perspective of each generation’s values and experiences allows us to be more empathetic towards our colleagues and teammates.
#3 Be patient and willing to adapt
Leveraging our perspective-based thinking, we should be willing to adapt our personal leadership, teamwork, and communication styles to that of our team members. If we’re on a heavily-skewed Millennial team, then we should be open to using Millennial-friendly tools like Slack or other instant messengers. At the same time, we Millennials should be open to the guidance of our Baby Boomer and Gen X mentors. The key being that as long as we aren’t closed off to the suggestions that each generation brings forward, we can determine together if it’s the right fit for the team.
#4 Find the right balance in your organization
One anti-pattern that we have seen occur is when an organization focuses all their energy on a single generation, while still running multi-generational teams. Workplaces have been told they should cater to Millennials to attract the best and brightest workers – and while attracting new talent and new perspectives is definitely important for a company (especially for succession planning) – it shouldn’t be done in a way that isolates the rest of the organization’s current workforce.
It’s important that organizations find a balance between catering to new workers with new tools and policies and respecting traditional work elements that other generations may prefer. In almost all cases, there is an optimal balance where traditional and modern methods can come together.
#5 Prepare for more generational change
Like many work trends, the trend of multi-generational teams is not static. Pretty soon the next generation, the “Centennials” or “Generation Z”, will be starting their first post-college jobs. With this new group entering the workforce, we can expect even more dramatic change and potential tension in the workplace. While it’s absolutely crucial we start adapting to current generations in the workplace, we should also start thinking about how the next crop of workers will impact our organizations.
Bringing It All Together
When we take a good, hard look at the shift to multi-generational teams, we can see that they allow our organizations to form competitive advantages by introducing different experiences, perspectives, and views. While some of us may choose to fight it, generational change in the workforce is coming – or is already here – and choosing to ignore it leaves us open to conflict. The tips discussed are not just practical, but essential to reducing tension and friction on multi-generational teams. When implemented, they can truly change the game so let’s embrace multi-generational teams and prep our organizations for success!
Concerned about generational change? Have any questions or comments? Feel free to leave us a comment below!
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