Generational Diversity By Heather Mausz
Managing Generational Diversity in the Workplace
Many employers have preconceived notions about who a person is based on their generation. Perhaps they see Millennials as entitled or Baby Boomers as stuck in their ways, and it’s hard to imagine how a generation with a reputation for enjoying less work and more play can coexist with a generation known for keeping its nose to the grindstone. Though differing styles can create friction, multi-generational work teams can be some of the most successful when the team leader believes in the power of positive influences, the impact of mentors, and the importance of cultivating a workplace that thrives on mutual respect and shared knowledge.
It’s unfortunate that so many employers jump to the negative when it comes to generational diversity. There’s a lot to know about each generation, what makes them tick, and how generations can not only coexist in the workplace but also bring out the best in each other.
When we discuss generations, we’re describing a group of people who were born within a certain period and whose shared experiences create a unique and distinct worldview. People born in the same generation have experienced the same technology, historical events, pop culture, and more. Shared experiences have a way of shaping us in ways we don’t even realize, including how we:
- Prefer to give and receive feedback
- Enjoy leading and being led
- Communicate with others
- Like to collaborate with a team
Benefits of a Multi-Generational Workplace
Older generations are retiring later and younger generations are entering the workplace right out of college, so today’s professional landscape has five generations. In many organizations, you can find Traditionalists (1900 – 1945), Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964), Generation X (1965 – 1980), Millennials (1981 – 2000), and Gen Z (2001 – current) working together. Each generation has their own strengths to offer due to the life experiences that have shaped them.
Though individuals born in different generations may not always see eye to eye, it’s important to realize the benefits that can occur when people from different stages of life mix. A Millennial may be able to teach new technology to a Traditionalist or Baby Boomer who is having a hard time acclimating. A Baby Boomer may be able to teach a Millennial about the importance of face-to-face interaction and developing deep relationships within customer service.
Teammates from different generations must be flexible but also realize that no one needs to bend to accommodate the other 100% of the time. Members of all generations should adapt and embrace what is best for their organization, regardless of whose idea it was or who benefits most from the idea.
Communicating Across Generations
Communication issues and misunderstandings are often the biggest roadblocks to a successful multi-generational team, so managers should help by opening pathways to successful communication during times when it’s difficult to find common ground.
Team members should try to assume the best about each other. A Baby Boomer who feels a Millennial is rude for working with headphones on, for example, can open the pathway of communication by saying something to the effect of, “I’m curious. Do you find it easier to work with your headphones on? I’m wondering if that might help me when I’m feeling distracted.” An honest, well-intentioned question meant to find mutual ground and understanding goes far in a multi-generational world.
In the workplace, this can be key to building friendships, fostering growth, and encouraging empathy. It’s also vital to creating a team whose members are an effective amalgamation of their own generational attributes and the skills they’ve learned from the generations that surround them.
Heather Mausz is Vice President of Talent Management at CapinCrouse, a national full-service CPA and consulting firm devoted to serving nonprofit organizations. Heather has over 18 years of experience in the fields of recruiting, talent development and coaching and provides a range of talent management consulting services.
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