Eight pitfalls to avoid in managing a multi-generational workforce
- Posted on August 23, 2022
- Estimated reading time 3 minutes
Lost among the data on modern enterprise imperatives such as digital transformations, sustainability agendas, and customer experience programs is this: nearly 80% of companies report that they currently have a multi-generational workforce. Those who don’t reckon with that dynamic risk undermining important (and costly) initiatives. Each of the four generations that comprise the modern workforce has different expectations and challenges. Gen X workers represent an organization’s next leaders, and their views differ from that of the Baby Boomers that came before and the Millennials that are following close behind. By avoiding the pitfalls of engaging a multi-generational workforce, organizations can capture the best of each generation’s workstyle and harness that energy for strategic growth. Here are eight common mistakes we see:
- Not meeting each group where they are. Emerging generations don’t want to be tied down to just one role. (At an engineering firm, for example, they may want to put their STEM skills to work but also be a proposal writer and a business developer.) Yet the more senior employees associate their identity with their skillset. They feel that they are good at what they do and are fixated on it. They’re not as willing to contribute in other ways so cross-training – even incentivizing – becomes extremely important.
- Believing salary is the most important consideration in a job search. The up-and-coming workforce wants to feel good about their company. Is it socially aware and green, are there sustainability initiatives, does the firm’s DE&I program consider age, and does the culture speak to their values?
- Forcing people to conform to a specific communications channel. Find the right channels to engage each group. An employee who doesn't feel comfortable using email as their primary tool will rarely be good at it. Find a “piece of comfort” for every generation so that they can participate in the way that is successful for them.
- Allowing groups to become victims of their experience. While wisdom is grown through experience, organizations can’t allow employees to become wedded to those experiences. Create mentor and mentee programs to find the right balance between energy and wisdom. And everyone may be surprised that energy doesn’t just come from the young and wisdom from the old.
- Going too far with remote working demands. The pandemic made all levels of the workforce more comfortable with what can be achieved outside of the office. Still, companies need to recognize that retention will often come back to meaningful training (which strengthens career paths and opportunities) and a deep sense of community (which fosters loyalty). Those two components of work life almost always have better success in person.
- Considering transfer of knowledge only from older to younger. It's well understood that older generations offer decades of experience and knowledge of the organization. However, generations with fewer years of experience have much to offer that isn’t just limited to technology. Some companies find they’re better with strategies and their approach to problems. Make sure that knowledge transfer runs both ways, where everybody is valued and respected.
- Letting technology take over. When technology aligns with culture, it’s enormously powerful. When it doesn't, it can create divisiveness. Remember that at the other end of a digital exchange is a person. Challenge the younger generation not to lean solely on quick messages and texts and to invest in developing relationships.
- Mislabeling someone based solely on their generation or their age. At a recent event, I heard this compelling advice: avoid labeling an entire generation at your peril. It's not about finding the right generation in your workforce. It's about finding the right people within that generation.
We’re at a moment in time that we may never see again. Today’s workforce consists of Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and very soon Generation Z. The pandemic and the follow-on Great Resignation have taught us that what motivates people can and will change. Companies that avoid the pitfalls of managing a multi-generational workforce and leverage what each group can offer will drive growth across the enterprise and be better prepared for the next market disruption.