Demographic and social trends will have a significant impact on the workforce in the coming years. Thus, in today’s struggling global economy, it is more important than ever that organisations leverage the knowledge, skills and abilities of all workers from all generations.

By capitalising on the strengths and values of different generations, business leaders can create a sustainable competitive advantage for their organisations.

An unprecedented number of workers from four generations —Traditionalist, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Yers — are working alongside one another and bringing their own values, goals and communication approaches to the workplace.

Such generational dynamics in the workplace affect morale, productivity, recruitment and retention. Organisations are facing immediate challenges when it comes to optimising productivity, protecting profits and growing their businesses.

Each generation brings different experiences, perspectives, expectations, work styles and strengths to the workplace. Despite the perceived “generation gap” from differing views and potential conflict, organisations have the opportunity to capitalise on the assets of each generation to achieve competitive advantage.

Building bridges

Managers who harness this unprecedented opportu-nity for growth, development and collaboration, and build bridges between generations, will thrive in today’s turbulent economic landscape.

For managers who have four generations of employ-ees sitting in a meeting or working on a project, it can seem like each generation has its own world--view, priorities, career models, motives and values.

Managers need to enhance their under-standing of generational characteristics and the impact of their own management practices on each of these groups. Taking full advantage of the multi-generational workforce will enable employers to effectively attract and retain employees, build teams, deal with change and increase employee engagement.

Effective leadership

Organisations need to deliver service value and build good customer relationships to generate sustainable results through their satisfied and loyal customers. Employees at the forefront of the service delivery chain hold the key to building a satisfied and loyal customer base.

Employees who are engaged and motivated are instrumental in delivering the service experience. The level of employee engagement is dependent on the “organisational or corporate climate”, which simply refers to “how employees feel about working in the organisation/business unit/department/division.”

The organisational climate is the process of quantifying the “culture” of an organisation. It is a set of properties of the work environment, perceived directly or indirectly by the employees, that is assumed to be a major force in influencing employee behaviour and engagement.

Organisational culture refers to the shared values, beliefs, or perceptions held by employees of an organisation. Having a culture that enhances employee commitment and capability will lead to an increase in customer loyalty.

Achieving a “conscious business” (Fred Kofman, 2006) culture requires impeccable coordination among the team members, authentic communication with one another, and engaging in constructive negotiations in their dealings with one another and other stakeholders.

We know that leaders create, transform and manage organisational cultures. The leader’s values, beliefs and leadership styles will impact the organisation’s climate. We need “Level 5 Leaders” (Jim Collins, 2001) who demonstrate ontological humility and possess emotional mastery.  They also need to possess essential integrity in discharging their day-to-day role and responsibilities towards engaging the employees.

Reverse mentoring

Mentoring does not only have to mean older workers coaching their younger counterparts; younger employees have a lot to offer older workers, too. Specifically, seeking Gen Yers’ cutting-edge technology skill set can help transform organisations .

Managers should encourage Gen Yers to share their expertise with older workers. Gen Yers are naturally predisposed to helping others, and like to feel they are contributing and making a difference.

Challenge and opportunity

The multi-generational workforce offers both challenge and opportunity. In the current labour market, the Traditionalist is delaying retirement (or returning to work), Baby Boomers are beginning to retire, Generation Xers have realigned their work/family priorities and Generation Yers are entering the workforce with distinctly different demands of their employers than those of previous generations.

As engaged employees are already performing well, some managers think they should leave them alone. But in an interview with the Gallup Management Journal on the topic of building a highly engaged workforce, Curt Coffman said: “Great managers do just the oppo-site…they spend most of their time with their most productive and talented employees because they have the most potential.”

Added the co-author of First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers do Differently: “A manager who coaxes an average performance from a below-average employee still has an average performer. But a manager who coaches a good employee to greatness gains a great performer.”

Engaged employees can inspire other employees, furthering positive change within the organisation.