Managing a multigenerational workforce: challenges, benefits & tips

How HR departments can help get the best out of a multigenerational talent pool

Many of us are back in the office, whether that’s part-time or full-time, and the various differences in our ways of working can no longer be hidden behind a screen. As the younger generations are joining the workforce and the older ones are staying in employment for longer, there are now up to five generations working in the same office – each with their own communication preferences, habits and behaviour. Such a multigenerational workforce can bring challenges as well as advantages.

We all know that misunderstandings and conflict can lead to a breakdown in trust and, ultimately, damage a team’s performance. But how can HR departments support all five generations at the same time? How can they create workplaces and employee experiences that appeal to an extremely diverse audience, each with their own needs?

The challenges of leading a multigenerational workforce

There are many issues for multigenerational organisations to overcome, from expecting different things out of their roles and responsibilities to preconceived ideas about certain age groups. But when it comes to the challenges HR departments have to take on, they can be split around the following themes:

A wide range of priorities and needs

Employers (and HR departments) have to be there for their people at every stage of their lifecycle, whatever their needs. This could include planning retirement or parental leave, obtaining menopausal support, or finding the best way to take their career off the ground. Workers can also have a wide range of worries and concerns, from mental health and wellbeing to struggles dealing with the higher cost of living.

Different communication styles

Younger and older workers exhibit different attitudes, and aptitudes, towards technology. And while these may be influenced by age, they are not necessarily a direct result. Some may prefer to talk face to face, others may opt for email replies. We can all think of the one colleague who just never replies to instant messages, or insists on coming over to ask a question each time they require information, and each of these preferences has to be taken into account.

Home vs office preferences

The hybrid reality is bringing to light the fact that some of us would prefer to never set foot in the office again, while others (particularly those in house-shares or with young families, and therefore often the younger crowd) couldn’t wait to get back to the hustle and bustle of a physical office. Managers and HR professionals are having to find modes which suit every generation and home situation.

The benefits of leading a multigenerational workforce

Sounds like a tall order, right? It can be, of course, but there are many amazing advantages linked to leading a diverse multigenerational workforce as well.

Diversity of opinion and perspective

As we like to say, life is too short for beige. People from different backgrounds bring their own unique vision, experiences, and ways of seeing the world with them.

More creativity

With so many ways of thinking comes different approaches to problem-solving. This inevitably leads to teams thinking outside the box, a key requirement for a growth mindset.

Mentoring opportunities

As staff have such varied backgrounds, there are a multitude of ways people can learn from each other. Whether this is through mentoring, with more experienced staff showing more junior employees the ropes, or reverse mentoring, with the junior crowd teaching senior staff about a particular topic – the possibilities are endless.

How can HR effectively support multigenerational teams?

There are many more benefits to working as part of a multigenerational workforce, of course, including the fact that it is incredibly exciting, challenging, and motivating. Which is the way we like it at Let’s Talk Talent!

But in order to effectively channel the knowledge, expertise and creativity that come out of a varied team without it leading to conflict and communication issues, HR departments have to cover all their bases.

Here are some simple things to think about.

1. Don’t rely on stereotypes – get to know people

We all have preconceived ideas when it comes to other generations, but it’s important not to pigeonhole people but to treat them as individuals. Humans are complex, and to group them under extremely broad categories, especially categories as vague as their decade of birth, will inevitably mean missing the trick when it comes to offering the right support. Take time to get to know your people and to understand their own unique realities.

2. Remember that most people want the same thing

Everyone just wants to be themselves fully at work, no matter what that entails. And HR departments have to find ways to facilitate this. What do your people need? What would help them increase their performance and make their employee experience a positive one?

3. It’s all about respect

Being respectful is key. Call out unhelpful or disrespectful behaviours (impatience, cutting each other off, dismissing ideas) and ensure the right ones are modelled throughout every touchpoint of the employee experience.

4. Adopt a human-centric approach

Don’t think about generations, think about people. Everyone has worries and insecurities. The nature of these worries and insecurities may differ, but HR’s role remains the same: to help people deal with them in a way that allows everyone to make a meaningful contribution to the organisation.

5. Foster a culture of trust

What does this mean in practice? In short, employees need to know that their team has their back. Leaders and managers need to have, improve, and demonstrate the kinds of soft skills that lead to trust. Rachel Botsman, a leading expert and author on trust in the modern world, describes the four traits that lead to trustworthiness as: reliability (being consistent); competence (having the skills, knowledge and resources to do the job); empathy (caring about others), and; integrity (aligning words with action). These need to be built over time, and as the team learns to know and trust each other, members will become more willing to listen and to adapt to different ways of working and thinking.

Bridging the multigenerational gap

Seeing past our differences (whether that’s in age or otherwise), is all about taking time to know each other, understanding someone else’s perspective and knowing that other team members can be trusted to do their jobs well and contribute to team performance.

HR has a role to play in making this happen, and the main strategy to use is a simple one: always remember you are dealing with individuals. Get to know your people, find the best ways to support them in the workplace and call out unhelpful behaviours whenever you see them.

Building the bridge between generations is all about building trust. We are living in a turbulent time: whether it is due to mental or physical health, finances or family worries, times can be tough and we all need to support each other and find ways to connect.

Remember that everyone is capable of learning and adapting, so make the most of your incredibly diverse workforce and funnel that creative potential so you can build an organisation that others will want to work for.

If you would like more support on bridging your workforce’s generational gap, don’t hesitate to book a call with us. Or have a look at our Developing Trust and Credibility workshop.

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