In Harmony

Managing a Multi-generational Workplace

By Jeff Vanek | Illustration by Mike Bohman

August 9, 2013

“It is important to look at what each generation brings to the table. Often the different values each generation holds is just that—different, not good or bad,” says Todd Anderson, director of human resource consulting services at GBS Benefits. “Companies need to create ways that enable the different generations to interact with each other, get to know each other as individuals.”

One way a company can discover and harness shared values among different generations is by creating events that bring people of all ages together. Some strategies Anderson has employed include creating generationally mixed work groups, holding employee roundtables on relevant work or cultural issues, or having brown bag lunches where a relevant topic is discussed.

Anderson says it’s beneficial to have these events on a regular basis and for upper management to participate.

Knowing Me, Knowing You

When it comes to attracting and retaining individuals to work at your company, one important key is offering the right kind of work environment and benefits. Pay must be sufficient, but pay alone is not enough—for any generational group. What must be kept in mind is that the different generations are often looking for different types of benefits.

“One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to benefits,” says Jamie Nagel, director of human resources at Orbit Irrigation Products. “Companies must tailor their benefit package and include a mix of offerings. Providing different kinds of perks or benefits to employees is important. They might include things like telecommuting options, flexible work schedules and education reimbursement. All should be considered in light of one’s workforce mix and what will be attractive to them.”

For older generations, retirement benefits are often very important. Those who are middle-aged often have families they must provide for, perhaps even older parents to take care of as well. Those in this situation value flexible work schedules and different healthcare options that can benefit loved ones.

Younger generations have different needs and desires.

Education and training is very important to the Millennials. To survive in the new digital age, more jobs than ever require education beyond high school and Millennials are one of the best-educated generations in our country’s history. At the same time, education costs have never been higher. The employer who can help address this issue will be attractive to younger employees, even in industries that are well established.

Tuition reimbursement has been key for recruiting young workers to the Mountain West Region of Genesee and Wyoming, a short line railroad company. “There are not a lot of new innovations in the railroad industry that make the field attractive to the younger generation, but we are able to offer a strong financial and benefits package,” says Matt Adams, director of human resources. “By offering benefits that the younger generation desires, like tuition reimbursement, we are able to compete for younger talent.”    

Additionally, create a workplace culture that appeals to all generations. “Hone your skill at managing in an appropriate way that taps in to their generational preferences. Take into consideration their differing preferences in regards to dress code, leadership style, work/family life balance, loyalty and feedback, to name a few,” says Whalen.

Lean on Me

In this information age, there is an irony in that the conflicts showing up most often in the workplace are communications issues. One of the biggest complaints from employers is that Millennials, despite being tech-savvy users of social media, often lack interpersonal communication skills. On the flip side, employers often comment that in general, older workers are slower to learn or adapt to the newer technologies.

One very effective way that employers can address this problem is by establishing mentoring programs, either formal or informal, that pair younger and older generations together. A good mentoring program can be very effective on several fronts.

For one, a mentoring program takes the conflict from a vast generational problem down to one between two human beings. It also satisfies both parties’ desire, regardless of generational group, to share what they know, learn new skills and receive recognition for the contribution they make to the team.

Mentoring programs not only help to eliminate workplace conflict, but they facilitate a company’s need to transfer skill sets and institutional knowhow, and introduce new knowledge and viewpoints into the organization in a way that can help the company move forward.

With a mentoring program, “older workers are able to teach and pass on their knowledge to the younger generation, and the new generation can share the insights they bring from having a new perspective,” says Adams.

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