By Mathew Paine
Managing a multigenerational workforce is now an everyday task for many business leaders. As businesses grow, they tend to become more diverse. Business leaders and HR professionals are aware of this and work to harness and foster this diversity for the benefit of their business. Age diversity, however, is something that many businesses mismanage, resulting in unhealthy company cultures and lower employee development; and it is detrimental to innovation.
To make the most of a multigenerational workforce, businesses need to be intentional about how they manage different generations of workers. By taking a few relatively simple steps, businesses can build their teams to take advantage of the various strengths of different employees, making them more efficient, innovative and competitive.
Foster intergenerational collaboration
Many traditionally minded enterprises have a very rigid hierarchy that places older experienced employees at the top, and younger employees at the bottom. Worse, some businesses avoid hiring older employees to lower-level positions deliberately because their labour tends to be more expensive or they are ‘too set in their ways’. This is a mistake because it makes businesses much less flexible and slows the development of younger workers.
Fledgling, entry-level employees need to work directly with older co-workers. This gives them easy access to mentors who have decades of experience in their industry and can provide them with insights and skills that may take them years, and many costly mistakes, to develop on their own. Furthermore, workers from the more mature generations tend to feel more loyalty toward their employer, and will help to define a strong company culture that younger, more mercurial employees can attach themselves to.
Younger workers, namely Millennials and the tentatively named Generation Z, also provide their own unique value to employers. They intuitively incorporate new technologies into their workflow that more experienced co-workers are unlikely able to adopt on their own, potentially making major leaps in efficiency. More importantly, like many younger generations, they have the drive and fresh perspective needed to rethink and reinvent old processes and products in a more modern context. Workers who have spent decades doing things one way might dismiss new and better processes out of hand simply because they’re unfamiliar.
Don’t limit leadership positions to older employees
Leaders and decision-makers need experience in order to be effective, particularly at higher levels. It’s critical, however, not to take that to the extreme. Businesses need to develop their young leadership talent in order to succeed in the long term, and older leaders need the perspective that younger peers can offer them.
Young business leaders are often more in touch with the priorities and the consumer demands of their own respective generations than their mature counterparts. This makes them better able to anticipate and react to the changing demands of their customers. More importantly, they’re in touch with the priorities and needs of workers in their own generations.
A high-level manager in their sixties is likely a homeowner, and, while they might be aware of the changing real estate market and utility costs, has a little personal perspective on the real effects this has had on younger workers. Relatively stagnant wage growth has left millennials with a comparatively low standard of living, breeding resentment and pressure for wage hikes. An older manager would be likely to interpret this resentment as entitlement, while a younger employee would have a much clearer picture of the situation those employees are facing.
Treat people as individuals
While it’s useful to divide generations into simple age groups in order to talk about them, it’s important to understand that these are mainly meant to describe groups of people who operate in different cultural contexts. That means it’s not enough to build teams that include people of various ages but to focus on making sure they integrate multiple generations. Depending on personal background, a 30-year-old engineer might reflect cultural values that align with what we’d consider generation X rather than their own millennial co-workers.
While generations are drastically shaped by their environments and shared formative experiences, various age groups are never so different that they can’t learn and benefit from one another. The different perspectives and insights that they have are always valuable, and worth capitalising upon. By understanding how to facilitate this exchange and managing it, businesses can make themselves more resilient, more innovative, and more competitive in both the short and long run.
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This article was originally posted on HR Expert, one of Australia’s leading HR resource and compliance websites. To view the original article, click here.
About Mathew Paine
Mathew Paine is an HR practitioner with over 19 years of senior HR experience across Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. He is currently the Managing Director of HR Expert and Non-Executive Director at Definitiv.