For the first time in history, our workforce spans four generations. How can you get the twenty-something tech wizard, the manager who´s also a Korean War veteran, the Baby Boomer therapist and the Gen X nurse to come together as a motivated, effective team?
A recent Boomer-era observer summed up the multi-generational problem nicely when he said, “My dad was early. I am on time. My son is running late, and his son is logged on but otherwise elsewhere, we think. Good thing we're not making widgets."
Inter-generational differences don´t just make the workplace interesting; they can make or break the bottom line. Eighty percent of Fortune 500 Executives say that communication across generations is a major workplace challenge.
The explosion of technology in the past few decades has also taken its toll on inter-generational relationships. Research shows that a third of the “Millennial“ or Y Generation rate their technology at home as superior to what they have in their workplaces. On the other hand, the Boomers and the Silent Generation struggle to adapt to the new software and other tools of the 21st century. The multi-generational challenge of building a cohesive workforce starts to come into sharper focus.
For instance, the Gen X'ers and the Millennial's consider Boomers and the Silent Generation as too rigid with wanting the "less experienced" employees to pay their dues before being promoted or given more interesting work. The Boomers and Silent Generation feel that the Gen X'ers and the Millennials have a sense of entitlement and won't listen to the advice of the more experienced.
However, the differences between the generations are just another form of diversity that provides an opportunity for teams to be open to contrasting viewpoints and learn from one another. This can lead to optimum performance by leveraging each of skills sets that the different generations bring to the table. Thomas Dolan, president and chief executive of the American College of Healthcare Executives, sees the advantage of having staff that are from the same generation as patients, so they can easily relate to one another. In a "Hospitals and Health Networks" article he stated "Most hospitals are going to have multi-generational patients...That's a real benefit, that we mirror the people we serve."
Tips to the Multi-Generational Gap
- Communication - To engage the Silent Generation, more formal face-to-face or telephone conversation is effective. Millennials want to have meaningful work and often choose to work where their goals and values are aligned with the organization. Make sure to communicate to them how their work affects patients. The key to engaging Millennials is a positive approach, outlining the steps needed to reach a goal, and providing frequent and continuous feedback.
- Training - For Boomers, training programs should pre-evaluate the individual's technology skills and keep them competitive in the rapidly changing workplace. It is also important that training exercises include real-world examples. Gen X'ers training programs, on the other hand, should be flexible and offer a variety of choices such as addressing career goals and how to promote ideas on methods for getting work accomplished. They value continued learning and career advancement. Make sure you are providing this in a flexible way by offering on-demand training in multi-media formats.
- Mentoring - Teaching should work both ways. Older staff can mentor the younger staff on leadership skills, how to present their ideas effectively and what attire is appropriate in the workplace. The younger staff, having grown up in the tech world, can mentor on the use of new technology such as electronic health records. The interaction between the generational groups in this two-way mentoring strategy goes a long way to engage younger staff and promote teamwork.
Businesses that know how to leverage the strengths of each generation and create a common ground for motivation and communication will have a distinct advantage. Overcoming multi-generational challenges will significantly improve teamwork and collaboration within organizations.