Can’t We All Get Along? Learn to Lead a Generational Workforce
By: Roberta Chinsky Matuson
The everyday challenges of running a business in a tough economy can make a business leader weep. Now add the challenges of managing a multi-tiered generational workforce and bridging the generational gap and watch the floodgates open wide.
Managing Your Mother’s Generation
Reports indicate that young people, many of whom found it difficult to secure a nine-to-five job, have gone rogue. Many have started companies. You don’t have to look much further than Time magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year, Mark Zuckerberg, to know that a number of them have successfully made the leap from solopreneur to running high-growth companies.
In their quest to recruit quality talent, many of these new managers (some prodded by their venture capital partners) have hired mature workers to compensate for their lack of experience. Some of these relationships go off without a hitch. But for many, problems arise when both parties fail to clearly define the relationship. Here are some examples of this and what you can do to pre-empt these situations.
1. Your experienced new hire decides she is running the show. It’s not uncommon for Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) to take charge. After all, they’ve had years of practice. Balance their input by clearly defining roles and setting expectations up front. Discuss those areas where employees are encouraged to make decisions on their own and those that require further discussion or approval.
2. Your new hire is providing advice on non-work related items. It’s difficult, especially when working in close quarters, to completely separate work and home, particularly when workers often banter about this and that.
If older employees are providing you with advice on non-work related items, then perhaps it’s time to look closely at the company culture you are creating. Are you joining staff conversations that are better suited for the bar than the boardroom? Are you commiserating with one of your employees about the crazy world of dating? As a leader, you set the tone for the organization. Establish clear boundaries on sharing personal information at work and then be sure you aren’t the one who keeps pushing the boundaries.
3. “In my day we used to…” If the mere sound of those words makes you cringe, you’re not alone. People want to share their experiences. Many reminisce as a way of letting others know they’ve been there before. When you see an opportunity, gather employee input. Be open to the idea that some tried and true ideas may in fact be relevant and could indeed be the best solution.
Millennial employees (those born in 1980 to the present) received a failing grade for behavior when first entering the workplace. Their reputation of requesting corner offices and holding employer’s hostage with their outrageous demands often put employers on the defense. Employers begrudgingly met their requests as they scrambled to fill openings.
What a difference a few years make. Thanks to the recession, and perhaps some maturity, younger workers today appear to be more willing to work within the confines of most workplaces. But this doesn’t mean all do so quietly. Here are examples of common challenges of managing younger workers and what business leaders can do to create a more cohesive workplace.
1. Hey you, it’s all about me The generation that has grown up with Baby on Board signs hasn’t quite figured out that it really isn’t all about them. Managers complain about constant questions or requests for continuous feedback from younger workers. One frustrated manager told a younger staff member that under no circumstances was he to cross the threshold into her office until he had tried to resolve an everyday problem on his own. She smiled as she sat back at her desk feeling confident that she had made her wishes clear. Her smile turned to a frown when this employee immediately started texting her with his questions. This is a generation that has a high need for specificity. Be very clear in your directions and routinely provide concise feedback and you should get along just fine with younger employees.
2. Texting while talking Millennials are masters at multi-tasking Their ability to talk, listen and text simultaneously drives leaders crazy. The most common complaint shared by younger workers about older workers is their belief that others resent them when they leave work at 5:00 PM. Many feel they have far out-produced their older co-workers and see no reason to stay longer. Managers can overcome this by measuring people on results, rather than face time. Additionally, consider establishing reverse mentoring programs where younger people are able to help mature workers improve their computer and workplace social media skills that help employee efficiency so everyone leaves on time.
3. Keeping younger people challenged Younger workers are often described as energetic, curious and impatient -- traits that are highly valued in certain professions. The real problem occurs when companies hire people who they cannot keep challenged. For example, hiring a newly minted MBA for a position that barely requires a college degree rarely has a happy outcome. When it comes to hiring an overqualified candidate, examine your needs closely before deciding to hire someone your firm may not be quite ready for. And do what it takes to keep engaging top employees.
Remember, creating a cohesive multigenerational workplace begins with you. Build on the strengths of each employee and you will be well on your way to overcoming multigenerational workforce challenges.
©2010 Human Resource Solutions. All Rights Reserved.
Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the President of Human Resource Solutions and author of the highly-acclaimed book, Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around. Sign up to receive a complimentary subsecription to Roberta's monthly newsletter, HR Matters.
Check out the Monster Infographic: Who Is More Entrepreneurial Minded: Gen Y, Gen X or Boomers?