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Managing a multi-generational workforce

November 15, 2019

There are currently five different generations working alongside each other in the workplace, from the silent generation to Generation Z. As people work longer and delay retirement, just as younger generations are taking on their first jobs, different generations coexist in a workplace and it’s not uncommon that a younger employee is managing someone older. On one hand this represents a significant opportunity for businesses who get access to a wealth of knowledge and experience together with fresh perspectives, however blending these diverse groups into productive teams can be challenging.

 

The differences between generations are real, but it’s important to see past the stereotypes. Some behaviours and attitudes might be a result of the amount of experience the person has had at the given time or the current stage of their life. To truly understand these differences, leaders who feel resistance from an older or younger employee need to try empathy instead of frustration.

 

Open communication through creative leadership

 

Whilst all generations are different, there is one thing they all have in common – they all want to be valued. Leading a multi-generational workforce requires a creative leadership mindset, encouraging employees to speak up and making sure their voices are being heard. No two generations are the same – they differ in their approach, motivational drivers and adaptability to change, yet each generation is convinced that their way is the best way. To get the best ideas from their teams, leaders need to create an environment that inspires imagination, curiosity and different ideas. This approach requires to let go of the traditional way of taking control and instead encourage others to take part.

 

Research suggests that creativity is not only essential in a multigenerational work environment, but it is also one of the top leadership competencies. Those who have creative ideas, recognise good ideas and are open to them, are better leaders.  

 

Creative leaders are coaches, not commanders. They act less as managers and more as facilitators, fostering self-respect rather than demanding it. They listen more and speak less to absorb different perspectives and ideas from their team, ensuring that they are all being treated as equal. Creative leadership is about igniting collective creativity from the bottom up and achieving operational agility.

 

Sharing the multigenerational wisdom

 

Employees across different generations often struggle to find an effective way to share knowledge and learn from each other. This could especially be a challenge when generations are siloed and therefore keep their expertise and experience to themselves.

 

Knowledge sharing doesn’t need to be formal. It can include morning meetings that give one employee a platform to share their learning or point of view.

 

You can also identify and publicly recognise “wisdom employees” who others look to for helpful advice and leverage their wisdom. Mutual mentoring can also be very effective when it comes to building bridges between generations and can accelerate knowledge sharing across the organisation.

 

At Acumen we offer leadership development programmes that give leaders at all levels practical tools to help solve real life challenges. In most cases we design the interventions specifically for each customer, but we also offer a wide range of off the shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information, please contact simon@askacumen.com.

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