Millennials, generation X, baby boomers, generation Z. It’s likely that your workforce is a mixture of all 4. Each generation is at a different stage in their life, has different experiences and challenges. That means they can’t be managed as one homogenous group. Instead, leaders need to consider how to bring these individual subsets together to create a productive, engaged workforce.
Without that forethought it’s likely that harmful stereotypes, disagreements and potentially discrimination will start to emerge. That’s not the working environment businesses are looking to create, that’s why we’ve created these 5 tips to help leaders and managers guide their multigenerational team to success.
What is a multigenerational team?
In its basic terms a multigenerational team is one that’s made up of people of different ages. If your team has a few graduates, employees in their 30s and 40s and one or two approaching retirement age then it’s multigenerational.
The benefits of a multigenerational team are fairly straightforward. You can take advantage of the experience and knowledge in the team for different roles.
Often the older, more experienced team members take on more responsibility and help impart their knowledge to younger team members. This way of working provides more skills and knowledge for the business.
But there are also drawbacks and challenges. There can be a clash over expectations particularly around working styles. These clashes can quickly descend into conflicts that take up management’s time. Communication can also be a source of disagreement with both the tone and the method varying between generations.
The frustrating point is that the areas of disagreement and the challenges can be a multigenerational team's biggest strengths, with the right management.
The rise of multigenerational teams
The number of retirees returning to work in either a full or part-time capacity has risen over the past few years along with2.5 million older employees pushing back retirement plans to cope with the cost of living crisis. This trend is set to continue with the government reportedly planning an overhaul of legislation to encourage the older generation back to the workforce.
The older talent pool isn’t one that should be ignored. They bring with them a wealth of experience that can be an asset to any business. Firms should be looking to embrace older talent through D&I initiatives so businesses can benefit from this talented section of the workforce.
The reality is that multigenerational teams are here to stay and with the number of older workers increasing it’s likely that proactive team management will need to be at the forefront of leaders' minds.
Tips to support leaders managing multigenerational teams
1. Create a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity
Successfully integrated teams start with the culture. When everyone feels that they belong there, that they’re respected and that they’re welcome, a more positive attitude follows. Admittedly this isn’t always an easy set to achieve but if every leader or manager thinks about how they can make small changes in their department bigger change will follow. Ensuring the right policies and support are in place, celebrating differences and successes is a great starting point to creating this culture.
2. Embed opportunities for mentorship and learning
Let’s use an example. Baby boomers and Generation X’s experience of technology is vastly different to that of Millennials and Generation Z. The different levels of skill can lead to conflict with older workers leaning on the younger generations to support their tech needs. Putting learning opportunities in place to upskill those who need it quickly eradicates the bad feelings.
Multigenerational teams will have different areas of knowledge and skill gaps. Embedding learning into the team culture will help overcome that. This can be formal training courses or it could be peer mentorship where more experienced members of the team can work directly with someone earlier in their career to upskill them.
3. Embrace flexibility
Flexibility isn’t just for working parents. It’s something that’s needed whatever stage of life someone is at. Whether that’s so they can take their dog for a walk, attend medical appointments or look after ageing parents. The reason for flexibility shouldn’t matter. Empowering your team so they can work flexibly and be responsible for their workload, will help stop any discontent around working patterns and preferential treatment across the generations.
The important thing to remember here is to talk to your team to understand what flexibility means to them and what their specific needs are rather than blanket policies that might not solve the multigenerational problem.
4. Prioritise communication
Email or phone call? Working hours or anytime? Meetings or huddles? There are so many ways to communicate, there’s a way to suit everyone. But that isn’t always a good thing.
A heavy reliance on electronic communication can feel impersonal and dismissive. On the flip side phone calls and meetings can be overwhelming to some.
Leaders need to understand what the preferences are within the team, and encourage employees to share those preferences with each other. Building an open, honest dialogue around communication preferences and styles. There’s no correct style but with a myriad of communication methods available it’s easy to default to what you feel comfortable with, without thinking about the impact on the wider team.
5. Set clear, precise goals and expectations
Clarity will always be a fundamental part of successful teams, whether they’re multigenerational or not.
Setting clear expectations and goals and communicating them to all team members is essential. But to be successful you need to go a step further and communicate what role each team member has to achieve that goal. What this does is convey the message that each individual is important and they have a part to play. This goes back to creating a culture of belonging and inclusion.
When workers understand the role they play and how that contributes to the bigger picture there’s more incentive to work together. To celebrate each other's differences, skills and successes because their success is your success.
There’s no question about the benefits of a multigenerational team, or that they’re going to be more common in the workplace going forward. There’s also no denying that, like all teams, they have their challenges.
What’s clear is that with deliberate managerial choices and the right leadership multigenerational teams can be a secret weapon. With individual skills and knowledge complimenting each other and workers learning from each other there’s real potential.
The way to unlock that? Clarity, flexibility, communication, learning and culture. It’s not ground breaking but it’s about creating an environment people want to be in, people feel they belong to and people want to do their best. Isn’t that the working environment we’re all striving for anyway?
About Nicky Acuna Ocana
Nicky Acuna Ocana has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Regional Managing Director of Ambition UK, Europe and US, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas.