Managing a Multigenerational Workplace

Emma Wolfe December 04, 2017, by Emma Wolfe

For the first time in history there are 4 (almost five) generations apart of the American workforce. It was inevitable of course; people are living longer and retiring later.  While the the diverse talents of cross-generational offices lead to more creative problem solving and the creation of unique projects and friendships, these inter-generational offices are bringing new challenges to managers.

How do you create this dream office? You’re going to have to read more to find out.

Generational breakdown and characteristics

 

First thing's first we need to talk about the age ranges and characteristics of our current working generations.

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The Traditionalists are our oldies but goodies. These folks were born between the years 1927 and 1945. They are also known as “the silent generation” or “the greatest generation.” They grew up in the hulking shadow of the Great Depression and truly value hard work.

At this point, most Traditionalists are retired but the ones that remain in the workforce are senior-level staff or working abridged hours and serve as mentors for younger employees.

As the name would suggest, many have “traditional values” which can lead to culture clashes with younger employees. In addition, they believe that hard work pays off and promotions are earned both through hard work and seniority.

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Next the Baby Boomers explode onto the scene. These folks were born after World War II, from 1946-1964.

When the Baby Boomers entered the workforce, the economy was healthy and growing and there were jobs readily available for them. Because there were so many of them entering the labor market at the same time, competition for promotions was high. This has led many of this generation to be work and achievement oriented and to value independence in the office.

It is also worth mentioning that the Baby Boomers who went to college left virtually debt free due to lower education costs allowing them to invest in things such as homes and cars earlier in life.

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Sometimes the G Xers are swept under the rug because they are outnumbered by both their preceding and following generational counterparts. Just because they are small in number, however, doesn’t mean that they should be forgotten.The members of this generation were born from 1965 to 1980.

The term “latch-key kid” came from them since many had two working parents and would come home to empty houses after school before their parents came home from work. For this reason, members of this generation are extremely independent and dislike being closely managed.

And while the following generations get all the credit for being technologically savvy, Gen Xers are pretty up-to-date on the latest technological advancements as well.

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Now we have reached the infamous Millennials. There is some disagreement over where this generation starts and ends but Millennials are generally considered to include those born from 1980 to 2000. Described as self-involved, somewhat lazy individuals wreaking havoc upon the American economy this generation is definitely the most talked about.

Millennials differ from previous generations in their affinity for teamwork. They have been multi-tasking since a young age and hate being bored. Millennials also require a lot of feedback from managers and they enjoy both validation and criticism of their work.

Another distinguishing factor of Millennials from preceding generations is their view of a work-life balance. Millennials value their time outside of the office and generally support more flexible working hours. This is not to say that they don’t get their work done; they are highly efficient but, after completing tasks, do not believe in remaining in the office just to kill time.

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The post-2000s babies are just now reaching adulthood and are being referred to as Generation Z. While they do not hold permanent positions yet, they are beginning to enter the workforce as interns. This generation only knows a technologically connected world. They consume information quickly and constantly.

Gen Zers and Millennials are the most cultural diverse generations and are generally more open-minded. This attribute is a wonderful asset for nonprofits as it promotes respect among coworkers and those you serve.

Potential Problems

 

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Younger Boss, Older Employee

It is becoming increasingly common for a younger boss to manage older employees. This dynamic can seem odd or difficult to manage but all that it takes is proper communication to create a good working relationship.

As a younger boss, you need to make it clear to your older employees that you both value their knowledge and are willing to learn from them. It is better to admit when you require help or expert advice from older employees than trying to do it on your own and alienating your staff.

 

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Stereotypes

Millennials are lazy and entitled.

Baby Boomers can’t use technology.

Statements like these are detrimental to the working culture of your organization. As a manager, it is your responsibility to counter such stereotypes and the best way to do so is by using evidence to the contrary. Use examples of Millennials at the office who are hard-working and dedicated and Baby Boomers who dance circles around the interns using your nonprofit’s CRM to counter previously held biases.

 

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Work Hours

As jobs evolve, so do workspaces. From freelancing to remote work, the traditional “office” is no longer the only option. However, this can be a cause of contention between Baby Boomer bosses and Millennial employees or Baby Boomer employees and their Millennial counterparts. Misunderstandings of what is expected of employees run rampant when there aren’t clear expectations of office hours.

Whatever your office policy is, just make sure that it is made clear to all of your employees. While we recommend allowing for flexibility in the hours and location of your employees’ working days, it's also okay  if you need them in the office everyday from 9-5. If you do opt for flexible in-office time, then make sure everyone is aware so that no one begins to question another's work.  

 

Employee Resentment

It’s difficult when someone else is promoted ahead of you. Now imagine if that person is 20 years your junior. As a manager, it is your responsibility to promote as you see fit and if the right person is 25, that’s okay but you need to have open communication channels with the rest of your staff.

Making a concerted effort to express your concern with employee dissatisfaction is essential if you want to retain a strong workplace relationship. When promotions are looming, set clear criteria and expectations for staff to make the process smoother.

If you are the one who was promoted, take into account the feelings of your team while transitioning into your new management role.

Best Practices

Establish core values and similarities

At the end of the day we all have a lot more in common than we do different. Focusing on these aspects will lead to better relationships between you and your employees and them among themselves.

Establishing a set of core values will create a sense of shared ownership over your overarching mission. For example, everyone at your organization has chosen to work at a nonprofit. They have made the decision to work at a nonprofit where they likely make less money than they could working at a for-profit company. Your employees do so because they believe in your nonprofit's mission. If you, as a manager, focus on these shared values, your employees will as well. 

 

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Establish Mentoring & Reverse Mentoring Programs

No one knows everything and learning from a member of a different generation provides you with new perspectives and skills you might not have developed otherwise. Mentorship programs are the perfect avenue to allow staff to learn from one another.

When designing a mentoring or reverse mentoring program (when the member mentoring the other is not the more senior employee) it is important to be structured in how you approach it.

Who is mentoring who?

What is the goal of the mentorship program?

Where will they meet?

How often?

For what duration of time?

Take everything into account in the design stage and then promote your program.  

 

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Gender, Diversity & Generational Biases Training

First, if your organization does not have a gender and diversity training at this point, you really need to get a move on. In this training you should include a section on generational biases which have largely been ignored up until this point. By laying everything out on table you can circumvent potential problems before they even start and stop biases in their tracks.

 

Stretch Projects

All good managers are able to judge their staff’s strengths and weaknesses and assign projects that help them further develop their skills. Assigning “stretch projects” in groups that are tailored to your individual staff members and their growth is a great way to encourage communication amongst staff and allow them to learn from each other.  

 

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Outside Office Events

Having events that take place outside of the office allow staff members to connect in a different way. At a staff picnic, a Traditionalist and Millennial might discover they both love the same book or have traveled to the same place. Having an event away from the office where staff can talk about things unrelated to work allows for generational biases to be broken, friendships to be formed and ultimately makes your office a better place to work.

Conclusion

A lot of the time “the problems” that appear in inter-generational offices are communication lapses and misunderstandings. Make it your goal as a manager to limit these occurrences and remain open and honest with your staff.

 

As always if you have any comments or questions please reach out to us! We love hearing from you! 

 

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Emma Wolfe

Emma Wolfe

Emma Wolfe is the Communications and Partnerships Manager at Elevation, a full-service nonprofit web design agency. Emma has been involved in the nonprofit world for years working at multiple NGOs located both in the United States and abroad. Her experience ranges from refugee occupation counseling to empowerment programs for youth in West Africa. When she isn’t traveling Emma loves doing yoga and trying new food.

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