Managing Five generations at Work

Our resident blogger HR expert Robin Paggi draws on her family’s experience to offer tips on how to manage multiple generations in the workplace.

Managing Five Generations at Work

At the age of 80, my dad is the oldest person I know who is still working. However, he’s not the only person his age still in the workforce.  About 5 percent of today’s workers include people who are 71 and older – known in generational terms as the Traditionalists (born 1920-1945).

At the age of 15, my granddaughter is enrolled in a training program that could lead to a paid summer internship. If she gets it, she will be the youngest person I know in the workforce and will join the 23 million people in her generation (born around 1990-2002 and called Gen Z, Millennials, and a variety of other names) who have recently or are about to start working.

In between the two of them, there are three generations: Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964; 45% of workforce), Gen X (born 1965-1976-ish; 40% of workforce), and Gen Y or also called Millennials by some (born 1977ish-1989-ish; 10% of workforce). Although the dates and names of the younger generations are ambiguous, one thing is clear – trying to manage an 80-year-old, a 15-year-old, and everyone in between is challenging. One of the challenges is that different generations need different things from their employers and supervisors.

For example, one Gen Y supervisor told me that she liked to meet with her employees individually once a week to give them feedback on their performance. As someone who likes continuous feedback, she thought her employees would like it too. She was puzzled when one of her older employees told her, “Honey, no news is good news.” The supervisor didn’t know what that meant. I explained that older employees were used to a management style in which managers generally only talked to employees when they had done something wrong. So, “no news is good news” probably meant the employee didn’t want the weekly feedback. In fact, the employee might have felt degraded by her younger supervisor constantly talking to her about her performance.

On the other hand, one Baby Boomer supervisor told me that she was fed up with a younger employee always asking whether he had done a good job on the tasks she had given him. I asked if the employee usually did a good job; the supervisor said he did. I asked if she told him so. She responded no, that he was so needy she refused to tell him. I explained that younger generations are generally used to getting more feedback and praise from their parents and teachers, and that if he was doing a good job she should tell him so.

So, give older employees less feedback and younger employees more feedback? Why can’t employers and supervisors just give the amount of feedback that they want to and tough luck if employees don’t like it? Because of a basic life principle – if you give people what they need, they will probably give you what you need.

Quantity of feedback is just one of the many differences in what members of the five generations need. Unfortunately, limited space does not allow me to provide any more examples than the one above. Fortunately, there is an abundance of information at your fingertips, such as “How five generations can effectively work together” at www.reliableplant.com or at your bookstore, such as “Generations at Work” by Claire Raines.

Of course, remember that we are generalizing when we are talking about generations, so we can’t automatically assume things about people because of their birthdate. This information is just an introduction into what employees might need because of their age. Employers and supervisors will have to learn about the employees as individuals to get it right.  Is it worth the time and effort? I think so. When employees’ needs are met they usually do their jobs well. Isn’t that what employers and supervisors need?

Robin Paggi is the Training Coordinator at Worklogic HR.

She last wrote for us on  Accommodating Religious Beliefs and before that on Politics and Work and before that on Emojis-A Workplace Communications Menace and before that on Alcoholism and the ADA in Employment. To read her previous columns, search Paggi in the search box at the top of this home page.

 

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