The Key to Managing a Multigenerational Team: Don’t Overthink It

By Robert Half July 3, 2017 at 10:45pm

Employers with a generationally diverse workforce benefit from having access to employees with a broad set of skills and experience.

However, managing a multigenerational team can be challenging — especially because professionals in each age demographic have their own work styles and approaches.

Finance leaders who were interviewed for a recent survey by our company said they see the greatest generational differences in the following three areas:

  • Communication skills (30 percent)
  • The ability to adapt to change (26 percent)
  • Technical abilities (23 percent)

Separate research conducted by Robert Half and global nonprofit Enactus for the report Get Ready for Generation Z examined the differences in these three areas among baby boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1977), Generation Y (1978-1989) and Generation Z (1990-1999). Here’s a closer look at some of the demographic-specific insights derived from that research:

Communication style

  • Baby boomers tend to be more reserved.
  • Gen Xers favor a control-and-command style.
  • Gen Yers prefer a more collaborative approach to communication.
  • Generation Z prizes in-person interactions.

Change management

  • Baby boomers are generally inclined to take a cautious approach to change.
  • Generations X and Y tend to see change as a vehicle for new opportunities.
  • Gen Zers are accustomed to change and anticipate it in the workplace.

Technical skills

Workers across all demographic groups expect their employer to provide training and help them to build their skills, according to the research. However, there are notable contrasts and commonalities in the learning preferences of workers from different generations:

  • Baby boomers and Gen Xers most value traditional instructor-led courses or self-learning tools.
  • Millennials (Generations Y and Z) prefer collaborative and technology-centric options.

Differences = positives

Managers often see generational differences in their workforce as negatives. However, building a team with diverse perspectives, insights and strengths can be a big plus for your business. Seasoned employees can provide a high level of expertise and insight, for example. And up-and-coming professionals can learn a lot from their senior colleagues that will help them evolve into future leaders. That helps your business with its succession planning and knowledge retention efforts, too.

So, it’s essential for managers to figure out how to get the most from all generations on their team. A good first step is to avoid overthinking this “problem.” A better approach is to recognize that everyone on your team wants to feel valued and help the company succeed. That commonality will help to lay a strong foundation for relationship-building on your team, and enhance collaboration at your firm.

“Managing a multigenerational team doesn’t have to be hard,” says Tim Hird, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources. “For example, for years employers complained about how the work styles of millennials were disrupting the workplace. We know now, however, they simply have different outlooks, and the resulting changes from employers, such as new communication methods and enhanced work-life balance offerings, have benefited companies and employees alike.”

Here are some tips for managing a multigenerational team and fostering a harmonious and productive work environment for every person on your staff:

Customize your style

Every employee is an individual. So, when interacting with your employees one-on-one, try to adapt your management style to suit each person’s strengths, personality and aspirations.

Your approach to communication is important, too. For instance, your Gen Y and Gen Z staff members likely prefer to receive continuous feedback on their performance. However, you may find that your Gen X or baby boomer employees are satisfied with less frequent feedback — but would still appreciate knowing that you maintain an open-door policy that allows them to come to you with any questions or concerns, as needed.

Share the big picture

Do you know if every member of your accounting and finance truly understands how his or her contributions have a direct impact on the firm’s bottom line? There’s a strong chance that many of your employees aren’t making this important connection. A recent survey by our company found that more than half of professionals (53 percent) wish they had more insight on how their day-to-day duties make a difference to the organization.

Staff meetings, performance reviews and regular check-ins all provide opportunities for managers to communicate how individual employees’ contributions benefit the business.

Which demographic group feels most disconnected in the workforce? See this post to find out.

Break down generational ‘silos’

It’s natural for people to gravitate toward others from the same age group since they likely share common interests and experiences. But in the workplace, collaboration and idea sharing suffer when employees only associate with colleagues in their demographic group.

When structuring project teams, bring together staff members who have complementary skills and diverse perspectives. That will demonstrate that the organization values people based on their abilities and not just experience. This approach is also likely to prompt innovation and new problem-solving techniques from your staff.

Also, consider hosting team-building events outside of the office to break down generational “silos” and give employees a chance to get to know each other in a different, and more relaxed, environment.

If possible, ask employees from various demographic groups to assist with the planning process for these events. Allowing them to provide input and add their personal touch can help everyone on your team to get the most from these activities.

Explore different types of mentoring arrangements

Most managers already know the positive impact that mentoring can have on less-experienced employees — as well as on seasoned workers passing along their knowledge. For a multigenerational workforce, however, two-way mentoring might provide greater benefits. This dynamic process gives all team members, regardless of their level of experience or title, the opportunity to discuss how to accomplish goals and solve problems.

Reverse mentoring relationships are another strategy for helping members of different demographic groups to communicate, collaborate and build a rapport.

Read this post for tips on setting up these less traditional mentoring arrangements.

Even though their work styles, preferences and expectations may differ, baby boomer, Gen X and millennial professionals have much more in common than you might think. They all want to have satisfying careers, the opportunity to work to their full potential, the ability to maintain work-life balance and to be compensated appropriately for their contributions.

Keeping those basic needs and aspirations in focus will help you to manage every employee on your staff more effectively — and will prevent you from overthinking the potential challenges of managing a multigenerational team.

Help every staff member find greater job satisfaction

Robert Half surveyed more than 12,000 working professionals to learn what makes people happy in their jobs. (Finance leaders: You'll no doubt be interested to know what accounting and finance professionals had to say on this topic!)

Download our free report, featuring the full results of this first-of-its-kind study, and learn what the happiest employees and companies have in common. 

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