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The secret to a successful multigenerational workforce

Feb 17, 2021 | Business

For the first time in recent history, we have five generations working together. What does this mean for individuals and for business? What is the secret to a successful multigenerational workforce?

Often established and longstanding companies see their fair share of changes in technology, business behaviours, accounting standards, societal values and much more. It is this experience that makes the company strong, but it is the various interpretations of that experience by staff members from different generations that add the real value. A typical business shape in 2021 is one that sees 60-somethings rubbing shoulders with 20-year-olds.

As a result of population ageing, increasing competition for talent and erosion of retirement savings by events such as the global financial crisis (GFC) and COVID-19, there are now five generations together in the workplace. The fact offers great joys and powerful challenges for the staff members and their managers.

The benefits and issues that come from the management of multi-generational workforces are not only related to technology. The adoption of new communication platforms is also advantageous i.e. using WhatsApp means we can get certain information instantly, much faster than by phone and email. The client can take a picture of a document and message it through in real time as they speak.

Success is about psychological safety

Another secret ingredient in high-performance, multi-generational workforces is psychological safety – also known as mutual respect. The only way to be successful is to develop psychological safety across the generations. Everybody must feel safe to be able to communicate in the way that best applies to them. They must also be comfortable to say when things aren’t working well.

It’s not strictly about culture. It’s more about the individual feeling they’re in a space in which they can contribute to the environment, and that they’re in an environment where people want them to contribute.

So how does a multi-generational team create an environment in which everybody feels valued? There are two ways to consciously do this, one is to simply ensure a good range of ages within every project team, and then allow the respect to grow organically.

Another is to ensure a broad degree of diversity in physical spaces, in project teams and in departments, and then to openly discuss the reason for that diversity to create a clear and open expectation that all points of view will be sought and listened to. If an organisation has a wide range of generations in its workforce, it should err on the side of having a clear process and mechanism to allow it to work. Otherwise, you’re running the risk of things going pear-shaped very quickly. When people feel they have lost respect, trust and the sense of being valued, they stop speaking out and subtly withdraw. That can have a serious, negative impact on a business.

Managers must re-educate themselves

When working with a broader spread of generations, we have to shift our expectations. This is because younger staff behave somewhat differently to the way the older generation did when they were their age.

As an example, the older generation may have been happy enough with a desk and a chair, and they knew they just had to get on with the job. This has very much changed. There’s now an expectation that staff are going to get various flexibilities and benefits immediately, where in the past you had to earn them. This is not a negative, but simply the way it is. The upside is that it indicates a good level of confidence and trust when staff feel they can speak up and are not put off by rejection.

It’s got advantages, because it means they are driven. Older generations learn from the younger ones about the pace at which we can move, and about being confident rather than conservative. At the same time, the younger generations learn that sometimes you need to slow down, to get perspective and spend a little longer analysing risk.

Analysing processes ensures the work environment is inclusive and comfortable for all generations. It leads to a permanent open-door policy, because those in younger generations want immediate access to their managers. The offices now have internal windows, so younger staff members can see if managers are in a meeting or on a call, and doors are never closed. Also, younger staff members are trained to come to their managers with plans of action rather than endless ideas.

Communication these days becomes a lot more about text messages, WhatsApp messages and emails rather than face-to-face conversations, because that’s the way the younger generation prefers to communicate. However on major jobs, face-to-face chats are required to align.

Because most younger people have had to work their way through university, they come into professional jobs with current technical knowledge, life skills and work experience. They have wisdom that perhaps those from the older generations didn’t have at the beginning of their careers. Working in the gig economy and balancing studies with work has given younger professionals greater capacity for agility and a healthy attitude to change, which is exactly what’s needed right now. It is the older generations’ responsibility to nurture their agility and value their ability to have vision for change, to ensure they’re always ready for the next event and are able to contribute constructively.

What do the young learn from the mature?

The younger generation, many believe, is the “always-on” generation, constantly connected within a digital environment. On the contrary, studies have shown that the younger generation might actually be the one that has best learnt to live comfortably with technology, instilling a work-life balance.

While older people might learn about the healthy use of technology, younger people are constantly taking valuable life and career lessons from those senior to them. People in older generations had much longer plans for their careers and lives and that is something the younger generations are learning from them, particularly since the COVID-19 experience. Taking risks at certain times, particularly in times of change like now, can be quite dangerous. Getting a job has now become difficult. Being loyal to one business is a smart thing to do in such an economy. That is something the younger generation must learn, at times.

Organisations with a good spread of generations have several advantages over those that do not. If there is a majority of middle-generation ‘hot shots’ trying to progress their career, it’s just not going to work. It’s important for companies to have that mix, because you need people who are just going to come in and get the job done with their wisdom and their experience. Equally businesses also need those people who will drive the company forward with exciting new ideas and who’ll introduce fantastic technology, and you need great managers to figure out how those ideas and that tech is best implemented against strategy. It’s important to have that mix of generations to get the best outcome for the company, to learn from one another and to create opportunities.

Symbols create generational respect

Symbols in an organisation can create success between generations. For an organisation to communicate to its workforce that all generations are important, the use of symbols can be very powerful. For example, they might have messages or signs on the walls that educate staff about the company’s history. That broadcasts ideas about respect for what the older generations achieved.

Some businesses bring retired people back in to support the business in various ways, and to mentor young people. Some celebrate those who are leaving, particularly those who are retiring, in excellent ways that broadcast their value to the business.

Some of the more hierarchical organisations, like paramedics and fire fighters, spend a lot of time on symbolism – so they get a special pin or commemorative gift when they’ve been there for 10 years, etc. Symbolism can be a powerful way to nurture respect among generations.

Here at DGL, we have a multigenerational Team and this is an attribute we pride ourselves on. From 17 years of age to mid-60s, we believe it creates a point of difference for our clients, an extensive knowledge base, technological advances and respect within the workplace for all ages. Should you require assistance in regards to success amongst the ages in your business, contact the Team today!

Article sourced by InTheBlack.