Asking individuals to share what they know with others is popular. Asking members of Generation Y, for example, to help boomers navigate the latest social media technology can be an effective way to increase your organization’s technology savvy. And, of course, there’s a lot of know-how among the boomer generation that can be helpful when shared with younger employees. I call this knowledge synergy — one generation sharing its areas of expertise with another.
But there are many other ways to exploit synergy across the generations. Here are six strategies to help you make the most of generational diversity in your workplace.
Philosophical synergy: Members of different generations tend to have different priorities and find different things satisfying or engaging. Many boomers, for example, shaped by the idealistic 1960s, are now beginning to downshift from their high-powered careers, looking for ways to give back. Generation Y’s, those in their 20s, care deeply about being challenged and continually learning. Companies are smart to tap into the boomers’ desires to make a difference by creating opportunities for them to influence the workplace. One natural synergy is to create mentor relationships designed to let boomers play an active role in shaping future generations.
Pragmatic synergy: Many members of Generation X, those in their 30s and 40s today, are pressed for time, juggling management responsibilities at work and child-rearing demands at home. To many Xers, managing Gen Y’s seems to require an unreasonable amount of already-scarce time. Gen Y’s like to be coached frequently, in real time, around the specific task at hand. This desire for frequent feedback can often stretch the demands on their Gen X managers’ time beyond what’s possible. Many boomers, on the other hand, find they have a bit more time. Why not leverage boomers’ time as mentors or coaches to offset some time pressure on Gen X line managers?
Life stage synergy: When staffing new assignments, consider each generation’s current life stage. Many boomers are now empty-nesters, with greater flexibility than ever before, while many Xers are tightly tied to one geographic area by dual careers and children in school. For assignments that require short-term moves, consider tapping the boomers in your organization, rather than Xers.
Operational synergy: Look for ways to use each generation’s work habits to increase your organization’s operational effectiveness. Do you have Gen Y’s who enjoy working odd hours who might extend your company’s ability to serve your customers on an on-call basis around the clock? Or are there opportunities to cycle work products faster by asking Gen Y’s to have their drafts complete by 8 a.m. and older generations to have their reviews complete by 5 p.m.?
Work practices synergy: There are some workplace practices that members of all generations tend to value. By investing in these practices, your organization gains advantage across multiple generations. For example, each generation tends to value additional flexibility, whether in workplace or time, although the reasons are often different. Xers often value flexibility to juggle family and work commitments more effectively. Gen Y’s may want time to travel and explore other experiences. Boomers may be winding down and spending additional time on commitments they will pursue post-retirement.
Strategic synergy: Bring each generation’s perspective into your discussions regarding future business options. Based on their formative experiences, each is likely to look at the possibilities through a slightly different lens. For example, boomers, competitive and driven, typically ask “How can we win?” Generation Xers, given their mistrust of institutions and desire for self-reliance, are likely to ask “What will position us with the most robust future options?” And Gen Y’s, with their sense of immediacy, will look for ways to make the most of the moment.
By combining each generation’s perspective and exploiting the synergies they provide, you can find ways to strengthen your overall organization.
Tamara J. Erickson is the author of What’s Next, Gen X? Keeping Up, Moving Ahead, and Getting the Career You Want. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.