Behavior can be influenced by societal norms, from those relating to family life and politics to those revolving around economics and the media – all of which may change over time. So, between baby boomers and Millennials, generational characteristics and priorities can vary drastically.
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Now that baby boomers are heading toward retirement, Gen Xers are entering the management phase of their careers and Millennials are joining the workforce, it’s not unusual to have multiple generations in the same company or even in the same department. Managing an intergenerational team can be rewarding but also challenging. Knowing what interests and motivates members of various age groups – and embracing their differences – can be a vital factor in effective leadership.
Of course, personality traits, behavioral tendencies and personal qualities can’t be assigned universally to every member of a particular generational group. There are variations among baby boomers just as there are among Millennials.
Working with Intergenerational Teams
There are widely held beliefs about each generation that can play a role in shaping and defining workplace relationships, both among co-workers, and between employees and supervisors. Let’s consider just a few.
- Baby Boomers: Defined as the generation born between 1946 and 1964, baby boomers represent a significant slice of the U.S population. Many are starting to retire now, with millions expected to follow in the coming years. According to the Pew Research Center, every day from 2011 to 2030 an estimated 10,000 baby boomers will reach the age of 65. Baby boomers are often described as hard-working, loyal and dependable. Many members of this generation have embraced technology, including the latest digital tools. For example, a Pew Research survey found that baby boomers were as likely as Millennials to make online travel reservations.
- Generation X: Defined as the generation born between 1965 and 1980, members of this group are more likely than their predecessors to have been raised in single-parent households or by two working parents. Having grown up playing video games and using computers, they may see technology as allowing them to work smarter and may be more accustomed to telecommuting. A 2011 Pew Research Center report found that more than 60% of Gen Xers owned a game console and that members of this generation were more likely than Millennials or baby boomers to own a desktop computer.
- Millennials: Born between 1981 and 2000, members of this group are also known as Generation Y or Generation Next. As noted in a 2007 Pew Research report, Millennials have been “shaped by an unprecedented revolution in technology and dramatic events both at home and abroad.” Gen Y is more diverse, racially and ethnically, than previous generations and is often seen as being more tolerant on various issues, the Pew report found. For Millennials, the line separating their work life and leisure time may be less defined and they may be more likely to move from one job to another.
Nurturing a Positive Intergenerational Environment
So, how can managers successfully lead teams that include members of two or more generations? Consider some of these strategies:
- Value individual strengths: Lose the stereotypes that come with labeling groups of people. Instead, maximize the potential of each member of your team by understanding and appreciating his or her background, skills and goals.
- Provide training: It’s not enough to simply assemble an intergenerational team and expect it to work flawlessly and seamlessly. Provide awareness training and allow employees to learn about their differences, as well as their similarities.
- Create partnerships: Establish mentoring partnerships among the generations. For example, team a tech-savvy Millennial with a baby boomer who values technology but needs some hands-on training.
- Be flexible: Acknowledge and, if possible, accommodate various work styles. That may include offering flexible hours and work-from-home options. It might also involve catering to different food and drink preferences in the company cafeteria, or providing wireless connections for employees’ personal mobile devices or charging stations for their electric vehicles.
Finally, remember that no hard-and-fast rules apply to all members of a generation. In order to lead intergenerational teams to success, managers must treat employees as individuals, respecting and embracing their differences.
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