Adjusting to Generational Differences in the Workplace

No matter the age diversity of your employees, it’s possible to tweak your management style to ensure everyone is functioning as a team

Adjusting to Generational Differences in the Workplace

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Never before have so many generations occupied the same shifting workplace. Between an overcrowding and oversaturation of markets and exponentially increasing technology, the American workforce finds itself at odds with each other.

Owners and managers are forced to make decisions about office flow and dynamics without precedent or guidelines, resulting in a lack of cohesion between previous generations and millennials. With Generation Z on the horizon, the need for strategies to fuse opposing age groups into a functioning team is greater than ever.

Enter Jim Schug, engagement manager at FMI, whose presentation at CONEXPO-CON/AGG in 2017 highlighted the problem companies face and offered creative solutions for mending the rifts now showing in modern workforces.

The source of the problem

The attitudes and perspectives of the different generations come from many sources, but a large and easily stratified source is historical events. Baby boomers, for example, come from the silent World War II generation, which created a culture of pride in work. For these employees, motivation, by and large, comes from duty and respect for the work. 

Millennials, on the other hand, were raised just after the credit boom of the 1980s and lived through the housing market collapse. Financial security motivates millennials far more than previous generations, making raises and bonuses more important. Though these generalizations don’t always prove true, they can provide useful context when discovering how to manage and motivate different employees.

Perception plays a large role in these generational office dynamics: How one employee thinks about millennials impacts that employee’s office behavior far more than any real interactions they’ve had with millennials. Millennials perceive themselves far differently than others do. For example, millennials tend to describe themselves as loyal and people-savvy, while the average human resources professional describes them as disloyal and tech-savvy. As standards change between generations, precise and continuous communication is the only remedy for equalizing such different expectations.

Solutions for all scenarios

Solutions for the situation come in various forms. Companies often organize team-building exercises and implement cross-gender or cross-generational training to help heal the divide. Schug recommends learning about coaching styles and how to apply them in different scenarios to suit different needs. Baby boomers may respond better to authoritarian style, while millennials could resonate more with a pacemaker style. Schug recommends focusing on the coaching style, which stresses long-term, invested work with each employee, attempting to bring out their best quality through practice and support. The real key, however, is to remain flexible and ready to switch styles to suit different employees.

Tips and tricks for mixing generations

Many different ideas exist on how to foster a healthy mixing of the generations and their viewpoints. Among them:

  • Offering additional training for managers on generational differences
  • Promoting mentorships, allowing older generations to help shape younger ones
  • Opening up office procedures to allow the free flow of information to all employees
  • Using positive reinforcement to clarify what is and isn’t expected of employees
  • Offering all employees the ability to give feedback and share opinions.

Although these might sound obvious or easy, their successful implementation can offer serious challenges to businesses in more generationally fragmented environments. Solutions can take serious effort and time to yield results, meaning they must be pushed with intent and commitment.

Just treat them like people

The heart of the issue is this: adjusting managerial style by person for better results. More important than age group or generational labels, becoming familiar with all employees on a personal level provides the best path to successful managing. What makes each employee tick and what drives them to come to work every day may not be obvious at first, and only through time and genuine effort can the path to their motivation be truly discovered.

The generations tend to all operate a little differently, and there are possible steps to remedy that. But at the end of the day, no healing or cohesion will occur without each employee being seen and valued as the human being they are.

About the Author

AEM is the North American-based international trade group representing off-road equipment manufacturers and suppliers, with more than 950 companies and more than 200 product lines in the agriculture and construction-related sectors worldwide. AEM has an ownership stake in and manages several world-class exhibitions, including CONEXPO-CON/AGG.


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