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workplace diversity

Closing the generation gap: How to manage different generations in the workplace

Among the many challenges facing today’s managers, managing across generations is one of the current emerging issues. The current workforce comprises as many as four generations which demand different styles of management. The current Australian workforce is made up of Baby Boomers (1946-1966), Generation X & Y (1966-1986) and iGeneration (1986-2006) according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. How each of these individuals perceive different organisational issues vary and managers are faced with the challenge of reconciling them to create a harmonious workplace. Here, we address how the different generations perceive communication, work context and loyalty and what managers can do to deal with the issues across the generations.

Balancing communication preferences across generations

The older generations (baby boomers) prefer face-to-face communication and in-person interaction. The younger generations on the other hand have primarily only worked in the technology era and prefer communication through technology such as emails, chat and text messages. They are mostly focused on efficiency and often perceive some face-to-face interaction as unnecessary which otherwise could have been emailed. For managers, it is important to make all members of the organisation feel comfortable and included in the organisation’s activities hence the need to balance communication. For example, a manager may send emails about some topics to everyone but ensure they arrange for in-person interaction with the older generations so that they feel their needs are being taken care of as well.

Work context perception across generations

Older generations prefer the traditional work context whereby they work to a 9-5 schedule without much flexibility. To them, this stability and routine is important and keeps them balanced. On the other hand, younger generations tend to prefer a more flexible work environment where they can work flexible hours, respond to work related messages on their devices even after standard work hours and often feel stifled when required to work routine hours. Older employees on the other hand often do not appreciate it when work interrupts their personal time. Some workplaces today encourage flexible work schedules and even working from home thanks to technology. In order to manage across both generations, managers ought to be open-minded about flexibility in such a way that they ensure the older generations work stability while allowing younger generations (and in general, anyone who needs it) some flexibility.

Differences in company loyalty across generations

A major concern for modern managers is the turnover rate associated with younger generations. Unlike older employees who worked in one place for years on end, younger employees are not as loyal to their organisations. They are driven by their passions and desire to make a difference and tend to leave employment if they feel they are not properly utilising their abilities. The solution to this is to keep the younger generations engaged through challenges and seeking situations where they get to utilise their abilities.

Encourage cross-generation interaction

Most importantly, managers should come up with ways to make the generations work together. This can be done by encouraging cross-generation interaction such creating mentoring opportunities for the employees to learn from each other. This can be achieved by partnering employees where younger workers learn the value of structure and consistency while the older learn to welcome change or even some technology skills. This way, the two generations work together and don’t perceive each other as ‘us’ versus ‘them’ which can be very damaging to the organisational culture.

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