The modern workplace has four different generations at the workplace - Generation X, Generation Y, baby boomers and traditionalists all coexisting in the same office. But as more boomers work past retirement age, and tech – savvy millennials continue to enter the workforce, stark differences are increasingly pronounced. 

Individual differences are certainly much stronger than those between generations, but looking at the population as the whole, there are clear generational differences that affect values, attitudes toward work, work styles, job satisfaction criteria, and commitment to the organisation. All of these factors are shaped by personality differences and life experiences.

 Although, we differ as individual, we share common experiences as generational cohorts that affect our perceptions and beliefs.  Clearly, people of different generations see the world in different ways.  The problem arises with differing mindsets and communication styles with workers born in different eras.  The friction aggravates with new technology and work patterns that mix workers of different ages.  There are increasing instances where there are younger leaders managing older generations, for example, Gen Y’s managing Gen X and Baby Boomers where conflict can occur due to differences in work styles. 

Communication Style

The preferred communication styles between older and younger generations have almost become a cliché. Gen Y sends text messages, tweets and instant messages to communicate while the baby boomers and older Gen Xers tend to prefer phone call and emails. Older workers tend to communicate with their senior management formally whereas the younger generations view the interactions on an equal basis. This scenario can be misinterpreted as lack of respect. To avoid unnecessary misunderstanding and conflicts, leaders and employees must strive to understand the preferred communication styles of their colleagues across different generations. Bringing staff of different generations together for team-building exercises can also help break down some of the barriers that can occur with digital communications. 

There are four common factors that glue all the generations together:-

Flexibility in the workplace will provide the best choice for the people of all ages. There are many ways to make your company more flexible such as understanding different work – life balance requirement by employees and providing the flexibility for them to act on it. 

Coaching approach – all generations wants managers and leaders who are good coaches.  Almost no one wants a command – and – control leader anymore. Traditionalist and boomers want bosses who will listen to their experience and ideas, and who will take a partnership approach to leadership. Gen Xs want a trusting relationship, be clear about outcomes, then leaving them alone to get their work done. Gen Ys want leaders who are mentors and career coaches, who listen to new approaches. Effective coaching is viewed as catalyst for development, which is right in line with what boomers, Gen X and Gen Y, want. 

Development opportunities for employees at all ages and levels are keys to loyalty and professional growth.  An organisation that has a well-placed development opportunity for the four generations will retain the employees effectively.  Continuous mental simulation and challenges motivates the boomers, Gen Xs and Gen Ys to them stay on with an organisation. 

Respect

Although showing respect sounds basic and obvious, it’s challenging because respect means different things to different generations.  Respect requires listening, staying open to new definitions of terms like “professionalism” and “balance, “ and appreciating the richness found in differing experiences and point of view.  Regardless of your level of authority, respect is as much about what you give as it is about what you receive.

Companies should begin to work on the generation gaps as Generation Z will be coming into the workforce soon and the needs of the workforce will continue to change until a balance is struck for every generation in the workforce with the individual differences also needs to be taken into account. If leaders take into understanding these differences of multigenerational workforce and address the key issues, they will be able to manage and grow the organisation successfully. 

Article Contributed by Meena Suppiah, Senior Consultant with Training Edge International.  She has worked for more than 20 years with people from diverse backgrounds and across various generations.

To learn more on how to manage, engage and motivate the different generations and cultures in a company, let Meena share the four factors of flexibility, coaching approach, development opportunities and respect with you at STJobs’ workshop “Multi Generation Workforce : Leadership Challenges and Opportunities” on 30th July 2015. Sign up today at stjobs.sg/seminar to enjoy early bird prices!