American Workforce: 5 Generations in harmony!

February 25, 2019 at 8:00 am
Map of United States.

Five different generations is what the American workforce is comprised of today. At many companies, 20-somethings work alongside much older workers in similar roles. You might worry that differing attitudes toward work can cause a generational divide among your employees. And when leadership doesn’t understand how to manage different generations, this rift can and does happen.

But a diverse workplace can be a huge advantage in terms of a company’s potential to innovate and scale. As North Carolina State University finance professor Richard Warr said, “There is a business case for diversity… It actually produces better outcomes.” 

To help your company find success, and to maintain harmony in the workplace, you need to master multigenerational management.

The U.S. workforce is diverse and fluid.

First, let’s break down the U.S. workforce by generation. Pew Research Center divides the U.S. workforce into five segments:

  •  silent/Greatest generations
  •  baby boom generation
  •  Generation X
  •  millennial generation
  •  post-millennial generation

The following graph shows the generational changes in the U.S. workforce since 1994.

Largest generation in the labor force graph.

Over the past two decades, we’ve seen post-millennials enter the workforce, we’ve seen millennials become the largest generation in the workforce, and we’ve seen the silent/Greatest generations retire. There are 17 percent fewer Gen Xers in the labor force than there were in 1994. The landscape has definitely shifted.

So, what does that mean for managers?

Age diversity is and will be a prominent factor in your day-to-day work life. Having a one-size-fits-all approach to management won’t cut it. Harboring generation-based assumptions about everyone in a given age group won’t work either. To encourage optimal performance, tailor your management approach to each individual employee.

Here are five tips on managing different generations at work.

Don’t get too caught up on age.

We’ve all heard the generational stereotypes. Millennials are social media obsessed and hard to motivate. Baby boomers lack technical skills and tend to be micromanagers. Slapping labels on people based on age is nonsense.

Not everyone behaves the same simply because they’re in the same age group. People are individuals with their own distinct set of attitudes, values, and behaviors. Data might show that millennials prefer a manager who’s lax with the rules. But, no one generalization holds true across the board 100 percent of the time.

As a manager, your best bet is to focus on the person and not their age. Learn how that person wants to be motivated, and what their insecurities are. That way, when you’re staring down a deadline, you know how to work together as a team.

The generations in the workplace.

Have open conversations.

Open, communicative, supportive, and transparent. These are words associated with great managers, according to our recent People Management Study. In it, we asked 5,103 people to talk about their managers.

During one-on-ones with your employees, ask questions like, “Is there anything I can do to better support you?” or “Are you facing any roadblocks—and, if so, how can I remove them?” You’ll also want to ask questions about their interactions with employees on the team and in other departments. The idea is to get in front of problems before they grow big.

If you’re a new manager, ask your employees to tell you about their best/worst working relationships with previous managers. Let’s say someone says he hated when his former boss peeked over his cubicle wall and asked a question. You’ll know to book time to speak with this person privately.

By asking these questions and having a two-way conversation, you’ll build trust with your employees no matter their age.

Create cross-generational mentoring/relationship programs.

Harvard Business Review recommended creating cross-generational mentoring programs. This way younger and older employees can learn from each other. This can be extra helpful for younger managers who might be nervous about managing someone much older than themselves. As a manager, it’s a good idea to think of your employees as your partners. Yes, you’re in charge and you make the final decision, but you should be listening to their ideas—and incorporating those that make sense.

Pairing up employees fosters team building, collaboration and understanding.

For more information on closing the generational gap contact us.

Written by Joseph King