3 Tips to Engage Your Multi-Generational Workforce

There now follows a short, yet familiar, conversation you might hear on any given Sunday at your local hardware store:

Me: “What do you think of these bamboo floors?  Are they an easy DIY?”

Assistant 1: “Yes, I’ve done them.  Let me show you how.”

Assistant 2: “We have weekly classes.  Do you want to sign up?”

Assistant 3: “Yeah, there’s a book upfront.  Let me go get it for you.”

Eavesdropping Millennial Shopper: “Not too bad.  Just go on YouTube to find some videos.  You know how to go on YouTube?  On the internet!!!?”

Well, we didn’t take the class, read the book or buy the hand-scraped, strand-woven, Italian-made bamboo floors at $65 a square foot.  But ignoring our X-Gen bruised egos for a moment, it’s worth noting that this is the first time in American history that we have had FIVE different generations working side-by-side in the workplace.

Having employees of different ages working side by side is nothing new. But a heightened focus on generational differences in recent years has altered the conversation.  Every organization – no matter the industry or company size – has become truly cross-generational (think Baby Boomers, Gen-X, Gen-Y (millennials) and Gen-Z (iGen).

We celebrate diversity in all its forms and embrace the melting pot of experience, street smarts and the technology-savvy.  But no doubt, this melting pot of generations comes with heady challenges, especially for the CEO/business leader intent on corporate innovation and culture change.  Let’s consider how leaders can unite, engage and facilitate collaboration between a group of people who inherently approach everything in such different ways?

Find the Common Ground

Despite the disparities in age, experience and outlook, when it comes to engagement, you may be surprised to learn that all five generations tend to value the same things.  A recent study by Hay Group’s Global Insight conducted a research study of a cross-section of multigenerational employees to identify what motivates and engages people.  The results defied conventional wisdom.

Little differences were seen regarding employee engagement and job satisfaction.  In fact, no matter the age, employees wanted access to resources and authority to make decisions that impact their work.

Make It Digital

Non-digital natives know their way around a cell phone (91%) and social media (45%).  They text, they Skype and they download music from iTunes.  So, since we trust your company is functioning quite nicely without typewriters, an abacus or liquid paper, realize that an analog approach to engagement and collaboration is both counter-productive and obsolete.  No one wants to sit in a room with flip charts, sticky notes and a rehearsed presentation.  The best way to engage any demographic is via an engagement format.  One that’s clear, visually pleasing and easy to use.

Prepare to Be Surprised

The mistake we make most often than not is that with age comes (conventional) wisdom.  However, anyone with small children and young adults in their family will tell you just how much these young minds have shaped them to be better people.  So be prepared to be surprised, that the younger generations may cause you to take pause and consider some very different paths that may take you to successes and wins you never expected.  Similarly, get ready for your oldest and most experienced employees or colleagues to surprise you with their  ability to manipulate Snapchat filters like a giddy teen, or point you to a remarkably insightful tech blog, like Ben Evans’, and boom (!) you have yet another entirely new perspective on things.