Managing a Multi-Generation Team

It’s a fact that by 2020, there will be five generations working side by side, with millennials representing 50 percent of the workforce.

Working on a multi-generational team is already commonplace in many organizations, and an increasingly number of managers should prepare for this — and, yes, even embrace it.

Here are five suggestions to keep in mind when managing a multi-generation team:

  1. Offer coaching and mentoring opportunities to Gen X: They are often referred to as the “lost generation,” as a result of being sandwiched between the baby boomers and the impatient motivations of millennials. Gen Xers want to be recognized for their expertise while at the same time worry they may suffer from Prince Charles syndrome: Being passed over, with promotions and recognition going to millennials. There are several ways to engage and retain Generation X —  mentoring, customized career planning, flexible work arrangements and having succession planning conversations early and often.
  2. Anticipate that millennials will ask about social media access during a job interview and have an answer for this, or risk losing a prospective new hire. Millennials will ask about social media access, choice in technology usage at work and flexible work arrangements. According to the Cisco Connected Technology World Survey of 2,800 college graduates and young professionals, one-third of respondents would accept a lower-paying job that had more flexibility with regard to device choice, social media access and mobility than a higher-paying job with less flexibility. Two-thirds of respondents will ask about a company’s social media policies during the job interview and 56 percent will not accept a job from a company that bans social media access from work or will circumvent this policy.
  3. Offer boomers and traditionalists the opportunity to share their expertise as coaches, mentors or faculty at corporate training programs. After all, boomers are now referred to as Generation Ageless since they are redefining what it means to age and grow old. In fact, the World Health Organization predicts that if a male is 60 years old and healthy he can continue to work in a full-time job until age 74, and a female can continue until age 77. As older workers either want or need to stay in the workplace, adopt a strategic view of how to use their skills and offer them continued training to keep their skills up to date, as well as the opportunity to be faculty in a company’s corporate training programs. And pay attention to how HR policies may need to adapt to allow for new kinds of work at the latter part of one’s career.
  4. Consider customizing benefit packages for each generation. We live in a world of customized blue jeans, music and newspapers. Why not benefits? In their book, Workforce of One, Susan Cantrell and David Smith argue that companies should adopt a “workforce of one” approach, meaning applying customer segmentation practices to employees. Using this approach, can lead to a personalization of benefits. For example, rather than offer a standard package of health, wealth and paid time off for all employees, more companies should consider segmenting benefits by generation. So, a company might consider offering millennials benefits in “life skills” — training in areas of financial literacy and learning a new language — while benefits targeted to boomers may focus on elder care or financial planning for retirement.
  5. Be proactive in creating a multi-generational team. This means deliberately involve employees from a mix of generations, cultures and gender on a project team. They will each approach the problem at hand with their unique mental map and this will make team projects that much richer. Consider this: By 2030, minorities will make up 42 percent of the U.S. population. Such diversity — of generations, cultures and mindsets — will play an ever-increasingly important role in innovation.

In the end, a multi-generational and multi-cultural team will help a company better prepare and understand the needs of a customer base, which increasingly will mirror your multi-ethnic and multi-generation employee population.