Three Great Tips for Leading Your Multi-Generational Workforce

Over the past decade, workplace dynamics have become more diverse and complex. People are living longer and working longer which, combined with advances in technology and the way we work is presenting new challenges for employers and business leaders. Forward-looking organizations are already adjusting their approach to interacting with employees at all levels and are realising that leading people involves a range of skills including emotional intelligence, coaching, mentoring, and values-based motivation to name but a few. Currently, organisations have the potential to have five generations represented in their workforce; these include:

  • Traditionalists – born 1927–to-1946
  • Baby Boomers – born 1947-to-1964
  • Generation X – born 1965-to-1980
  • Millennials – born 1981-to-2000
  • Generation Z – born 2001-to-2020

Each generation demonstrates characteristics and motivations that differ significantly from earlier generations when it comes to participation in the workplace.  Indeed a recent study by Forbes indicates that by 2025 millennials will make up 75% of the workforce with Gen Z employees now eager to make their mark on the world of work. To maximize the benefits of a multi-generational workforce employers, managers, supervisors, and team leads must adapt their management style to cater firstly to diversity and in turn, learn to communicate effectively with employees and teams. 

Avoid Stereotyping Pitfalls

Inaccurate beliefs about age can negatively affect your workplace

It may be convenient to ‘label’ or ‘stereotype’ a specific group or groups of individuals for research and marketing purposes.  Indeed, every generation has experienced the effects of positive and negative stereotyping and it is not a new phenomenon.  Some may find it funny, odd, offensive, or be apathetic to the labels placed upon them.  In other instances, stereotyping can be extremely harmful and even unlawful.  When it comes to your multigenerational workforce stereotyping should be avoided for these reasons:  

  • If we rely on stereotyping when we are not able to relate to our colleagues due to generational gaps it can be very harmful to the culture of the organisation.  
  • We might blame solvable problems on each other resulting in a divisive ‘them and us’ situation.
  • We will alienate ourselves and others by assuming that the primary method of employee identity is the generation they grew up in.
  • Stereotyping prevents us from working to understand and value the differences that cause friction.
  • Stereotyping can negatively impact job performance and productivity due to fractured relationships. 
  • Discord in teams increases the risk of attrition and subsequently the loss of valuable talent.

How to avoid the stereotyping pitfall:

  • Have honest and transparent conversations with employees – encourage collaboration at all levels.
  • Educate your employees and promote diversity awareness and inclusivity.  
  • Promote Psychological safety – this is a big subject.  Amy Edmondson’s work on psychological safety is ground-breaking and can be reviewed at https://is.gd/WhR4pp. In her very famous TEDx presentation, Edmondson offers three simple ideas that if applied can enhance a team’s psychological safety:
    • Frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem.
    • Acknowledge your own fallibility.
    • Model curiosity and ask lots of questions.
  • Foster a growth mindset and challenge negative fixed mindset amongst staff at all levels.
  • Prioritise inclusivity, collaboration, and growth mindset in key areas of your business.

Situational Leadership

Match your behaviours with the performance needs of the individual or group

We no longer believe (and research is telling us) that the ‘one size fits all’ approach just doesn’t cut it when managing employees from a multi-generational perspective.  Situational leadership is key – first introduced by Ken Blanchard in 1969; it’s the ability to modify a style of leadership to suit an individual, group in specific contexts. Leaders who adopt a situational approach to managing their people are much more likely to succeed than a leader or manager who opts for a more rigid fixed style of leadership. The Situational Leadership model has stood the test of time and continues to be an effective tool for leaders to match their behaviours with the performance needs of the individual or group that they are attempting to influence.

Reverse & Reciprocal Mentoring

A really useful way to bring multigenerational employees together

These are two approaches that will help you to successfully manage your multigenerational workforce.  Reverse mentoring is an interesting concept first made popular by Jack Welch CEO of General Electric in the 1990s.  Reverse mentoring as the name suggests turns the traditional leadership model on its head but can be very effective in developing talent and promoting staff retention within an organisation. A perfect example lies in the generation we call ‘digital natives’ mainly Millennials & Gen Zs – these employees are comfortable and expert with technology and they quickly learn new skills as the need arises.  Reverse mentoring means that these digital natives can be a great asset to mature leaders who are not as agile in the use of technology. There are many benefits to reverse mentoring and it is an excellent method of bridging generational differences in a positive way. Reciprocal mentoring became extremely popular during the 2020 lockdown caused by the pandemic – every organisation on the planet had to adapt and pivot overnight to new ways of working. Reciprocal mentoring is more of a two-way street with employees at every level being called to share their skills and knowledge; in some cases for the mere survival of their business. A stand out for me is the retail sector which suffered greatly from the multiple lockdowns.  McIlhenny’s in Ballybofey, co. Donegal is a fifty-year-old retail business in the rural northwest of Ireland. Having followed their progression from bricks and mortar selling to online and now to their hybrid selling model – it is clear that their approach to utilising existing skills and reciprocal mentoring has resulted in a five-star success story.

They have amassed a huge Facebook and Instagram following, they have regular ‘live at 5’ posts on both channels, they had at least two live sell-out events on social media which were attended by people all over the world. The senior staff is clearly supported by digital natives when it comes to the technology and it is obvious that the collaboration is benefiting the less experienced staff as they learn the nuances of selling high-quality stock to target customer segments.

The importance of resolving issues related to multigenerational differences cannot be overemphasised.  Authors, influencers, and researchers are telling us this and we should listen attentively to their message.  The multi-generational workforce is here to stay and it’s on business leaders to support their managers, leaders, and staff to navigate new workplace landscapes so that workplace harmony, inclusivity, positive attitudes towards diversity, and collaboration so that employees can bring their full selves to work.  If you are curious about this topic or you think your staff needs training in any of the areas mentioned in this article please visit our website on www.newlinkstraining.com  or call us directly on 051 385720.

Janet Tumulty

2nd September 2021