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Managing a Multigenerational Team Well Can Be a Competitive Advantage

By 2030, 150 million jobs globally will shift to workers over the age of 55, a figure nearly equal to the entire working population of the U.S, according to a global study from Bain & Company. In some countries, such as the U.S., these experienced workers will comprise a quarter of the workforce by the end of the decade—nearly 10 percentage points higher than in 2011.

Managing a Multigenerational Team Well Can Be a Competitive Advantage_blog

What’s happening? Over the past two decades, fewer young people are entering the workforce, and a long-term trend toward earlier retirement is slowly going into reverse. Forty-one percent of American workers now expect to work beyond age 65. Thirty years ago, it was 12%.

This is good news.

Older workers bring a level of experience, critical thinking and sheer knowledge that cannot be taught to the workplace, according to a study by Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. Older workers are:

  • Skilled and experienced
  • Stay in jobs longer and take fewer days off
  • Have a strong work ethic
  • Play a critical role in training the next generation of workers
  • Provide customers with consistency and personal attention

What’s more, “aging workers can help employers get ahead of their talent gaps and create high-quality jobs that turn older workers’ skills and experience into a competitive advantage,” said Andrew Schwedel, Partner at Bain & Company and Co-Chair of Bain Futures. “Companies that invest in recruiting, retaining, reskilling, and respecting the strengths of this group will set themselves up for success as the demographics of the workforce continue to shift.”

Managing a Multigenerational Team

Each member of your team brings varying levels of expertise and years of experience and makes valuable contributions based on their unique talents that ultimately lead to the continued success of your company. Still, managing a high-performing multigenerational team can be challenging.

What works well is to play to people’s strengths, to listen and pay attention to behaviors. Why assign someone a task if we both know it does not play to their strengths and they will only get frustrated, procrastinate or just flat out miss the deadline? We are not getting best outcomes.

Try focusing on individual strengths and creating a healthy, safe environment to learn and to grow individuals to take on tasks in the future that initially were not in their wheelhouse. Investing in people and building capabilities is key.

As Liz Bywater, Ph.D. of WJM Associates writes, “On any given team, you will have people with a variety of strengths, backgrounds, personalities and work styles. To lead most effectively, you need to modify your management style to accommodate the needs of each team member. The flexible leader recognizes that there is nothing inauthentic about modifying his or her approach as needed.”

The result is a high-performing team comprised of members of several generations that is super responsive to our customers—both internal and external, meets deadlines and exceeds the objectives we set for ourselves.  

"Smart employers realize that one of the keys to growing and succeeding in an increasingly competitive global marketplace is recruiting and managing talent drawn from workers of all ages," finds a study from the Boston College Center for Work & Families. "Leading—and successfully managing—an intergenerational workforce is becoming a business imperative that few organizations can ignore."

Challenges are inevitable when you try to integrate people with different life experiences, communication preferences and tech savvy into cohesive teams.  Here are some tips to consider when bridging the generational divide and managing multigenerational teams.

Icons_Appreciate DifferencesAppreciate Differences. Each generation has a different work style. Step one is to understand and appreciate the differences, so that in turn you can tailor your management style to get the best out of reach team member. According to the American Management Association, members of the Silent Generation (born 1925-1946) tend to be loyal, hard workers who value interpersonal communication skills; Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) tend to be optimistic, distrustful of authority, and prioritize work over personal life; members of Generation X (born 1965-1980) are more likely to question authority and strive for work/life balance; Millennials (born 1981-1996) tend to be team-centric and highly educated and Generation Z (born in 1997 -2012) are true digital natives who tend to be always “connected," in search of the truth and eager to make a social impact by mobilizing around a cause. Remember, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z, where similar, are still unique.

Icons_Managing TasksManaging Tasks. It's best not to take a cookie-cutter approach towards managing the team. Rather tailor the management style to the resource to get the best outcome. Members of a team with 7+ years of experience in the workplace are mostly able to determine which project needs their attention and how to prioritize work efforts to include steadily working on future deadlines. These team members, if they feel overwhelmed, may simply need a quick phone call or email to reassure and provide direction.

That overwhelming feeling may stop less experienced team members in their tracks. Facing multiple projects—and seemingly competing deadlines—can be paralyzing, creating uncertainty on which task to tackle first. Establishing a weekly cadence with more specific guidelines and incremental reviews can be helpful to increase confidence and independence. It can be helpful to establish a quarterly mentoring cadence to nurture and grow young professionals into powerhouses.

Icons_FeedbackFeedback. Discuss feedback—and feedback expectations—with team members. This is one area where there is a generational gap. Millennials and Gen Z seek immediate feedback, probably best characterized as instant gratification. Conversely, Baby Boomers appreciate a more formal, thoughtful feedback process with time to reflect and discuss.

To be a successful manager and leader in today’s dynamic workplace, it is important to understand the uniqueness of each generation to create an environment where everyone can thrive. A conversation will help with understanding the differences. Don’t assume that every team member is dialed in and understands. The goal is to find common ground and bring different perspectives and experiences together to deliver best outcomes for the company.