“Raima hustles to get her work done, completes every assignment on time , does her best to connect with her team . But for some reason her team and managers were not happy and don’t believe that she is giving her best. They take her late coming to the office as disrespectful.They don’t appreciate her chatter over the cubicle walls. And they just don’t understand why she’s always using email instead of delivering messages in person”.

But Raima’s approach towards her team and her work is unique and she’s confused by the hyper-focus on “working hours” and “start times.” Isn’t the work she produces at the corner coffee shop just as valuable as the work she performs in the office?On the other handIsn’t the point of working together, building camaraderie, and sharing ideas the point of going to an office?

The reality today…

Today’s workforce is made up several age groups working together.For the first time in history four diverse generations are working together at the workplace. And this is posing a new challenge for today’s leadership and Human resources.

According to a study by Robert Half Survey reported that over 2200 CFOs across the U.S said that they see that they see the greatest generational differences in employees’ communication skills, ability to change and technical abilities.

Arough guide to ‘Generations’

First of all we all need to understand is the generational diversity present in today’s workforce. We have four generations on board which are:

1. BabyBoomers– Born between 1946 & 1964 .They are known for their work ethic, and the importance they give to the professional accomplishments. They are hard workingand are often termed as “Workaholic”. They are very goal oriented and prefer phone call and formal letters over email and instant messaging as the mode of communication.

2.Generation X– Born between 1965 & 1980. They’re known for being extremely independent and self-sufficient, valuing freedom, and shunning micro-management in the workplace.While they may not be as tech-savvy as the younger generations, Gen X-ers are actually quite technologically adept. A study revealed that 54% of Generation X leaders are digitally savvy—which is on pace with 56% of Millennial leaders.

3. Generation Y or Millenials- Born between 1981 & 1996.This generation, which is already the largest in the workforce, will make up three-quarters of the global workforce by 2025.Millennials desire work/life balance and crave flexibility in the workplace, such as working from home and casual dress. They aim to work smarter, rather than harder. Despite the eagerness that Millennials bring to the table, this generation is often stereotyped as being self-involved and overly dependent on technology. They also expect and value a significant amount of feedback from employers.

4. GenerationZ– Born between 1997 & 2015. The youngest generation in the current workforce. They are the first generation to grow up in a world that is completely wireless and are complete tech savvy, creative, flexible and self reliant.

Barriers in managing multi generational workforce

Managing a multi generational workforce is not an easy task as each generation has different world view, expectations, working style, communication style and lot more. Recent research by Deloitte says that two-thirds of HR professionals report some level of conflict between generations at work.

The first step towards this management would be to understand the potential challenges. The most common issues are :

1. Risk of conflict:With each generation having distinctive traits and characteristics, there is a potential risk of conflicts occurring due to clashing values and beliefs, work ethics, and communication styles.One study by the UK government found that 15% of respondents thought that having a 70-year-old boss would be “unacceptable”, compared with 5% for having a 30-year-old boss.

2. Work Culture difference: Each generation has a distinct working style, and they’re likely to clash now and again. While Baby Boomers are comfortable working long hours and prefer working on-site, Gen Y and Gen Z employees prefer more flexible hours and the option to work remotely.According to a survey conducted by Dimensional Research and commissioned by SuccessFactors, an SAP company stated that at the time of joining Generation X would ask for higher pay or higher job title, on the other hand the Millenials and Zillenials ask for flexible work hours, training, perks like events participation, etc.

3.Difference in communication Style: While on one side the older generations would like to keepit formal through phone call or face to face meeting and on the other side the younger generations embrace digital communication through email and instant messaging. These different styles can lead to miscommunication or lack of communicating at all—both of which pose an obvious problem.

4. Negative Stereotyping: Lazy, Entitled, Tech obsessed, Overeager. These are just a few of the terms that come to mind for many older workers when they think of millennials, and members of the younger generation are well aware of the stereotypical ideas they’re up against. Rich Milgram, CEO of career network Beyond.com, pointed out that Gen Y isn’t alone: Younger workers may perceive baby boomers as difficult to train and stubbornly set in their ways.

Bridging the gap

Withdiversity comes the responsibility of inclusion – and one size does not fit all.

Managing generational differences in the workplace is all about creating an environment where people understand and appreciate various points of view. There are few strategies which can be make managing multi generational workforce easier like:

1. Customize your communication style– As generations are used to receiving information in different ways in their personal lives, managers should tailor their communication methods towards each generation’s strengths, personality and aspirations. Organisations should provide for varied communication platforms to suit the needs of its diverse workforce. Build in agility and responsiveness in your platforms and poliies

2. Assemble age-diverse team for projects– By creating age-diverse project teams, you can leverage the unique strengths of each generation, while also encouraging team members to collaborate and build relationships with one another. Despite possible conflicting opinions or disagreements, 89% of employees in Australia prefer to work with age diverse colleagues.For example, a Gen Z employee might be aware of the latest technology and social media platforms, while an experienced Boomer might have invaluable knowledge of the industry you work in.

3. Tailor your feedback process– Taking a personalized approach will not only make employees happy but also make it easier to delivereffective, meaningful feedback.Gen X employees want to be left alone, while Gen Z employees want immediate, bite-sized feedback on their performance.

4. Reverse mentoring programs– According to a Brandon Hall study, nearly half of the workers in the U.S will be Millennials by 2020, yet 84% of businesses anticipate a shortfall in the number of qualified leaders over the next five years. With an increased leadership gap, it is indeed required for organizations to have mentoring program such as reverse mentoring programs .This will help build confidence in younger employees and inspires older generations to learn about new technologies, tools and digital strategies. Companies like SAP, Xerox, Microsoft and IBM have rolled out reverse mentoring programs.

4. Discourage negative stereotypes– In order to take full advantage of your multigenerational workforce, avoid making any assumptions or stereotyping based on age. Instead, talk to each of your employees and learn about their individual preferences and working styles.

5. Sensitization and unconscious bias workshops– these are a necessity for today’s organisations. The intersectionality of generations, gender and culture need to be understood by all employees and they need to be sensitized on inclusive, bias free behavior.

6. Listen to your employees– If you want to open up communication between generations and build relationships, just ask them about their preferences, interests and expectations, and then listen carefully. They may have different expectations like They may want different kinds of training, They may value different job benefits, e.g. retirement plans vs. health insurance or they may have different expectations of working hours and flexibility.

Benenfits of Embracing Generation Diversity to create a Future Perfect Workplace

There are many ways that organizations can benefit from embracing generation diversity in the workplace:

1.     Better innovation and Problem solving- As each generation has a different approach towards solving problems, having a multigenerational workforce can be very beneficial when it comes to identifying potential solutions and new ways of addressing day-to-day issues.

2.     Mentoring opportunities– A multigenerational workforce is the perfect environment for mentoring. Across generations, employees can teach each other new ways of approaching things and more efficient ways of doing business. For example, a more technologically adept employee might know a faster way for a Boomer to approach a manual, tedious task at work.

3.     Reflects your customers: By employing people from each of these generations, you can better understand the different target audiences that you’re trying to reach.

While generational diversity in the workplace can be challenging for both employers and employees to navigate,by fostering a culture that celebrates collaboration, keeping the lines of communication open, and tailoring your approach to each individual,organisations will surely be able to create a future perfect workplace for all generations.

~ Prerna Arora