5 Ways to Manage Generational Diversity in the Workplace

By Brian Montijo

For the first time in history, our national workforce is made up of five distinct generations. Much has been said about what makes each generational cohort different, especially Millennials. Our focus, however, will not be on how to engage or attract millennials, but on 5 ways to manage generational diversity in the workplace. To give you a quick outline, we will cover the following 5 ways to manage generational diversity in the workplace and each way’s benefits.

  • Get generational diversity out in the open (and 3 ways how to do so)

  • Use a custom approach to managing employees

  • Adapt and encourage varying communication styles

  • Implement mentoring practices

  • Ensure that your recruitment process is generationally friendly

Let’s get started with our top way to manage generational diversity in the workplace.

Generational Management Technique 1: Get generational diversity out in the open

The never-ending discussions about generational differences usually focuses on how each generation is different. Take the initiative that, when these conversations start (either planned or unplanned), to be a leader and put a positive spin on the dialogue. Another way to achieve getting these conversations out in the open in a constructive way is to implement communication strategies that educate employees on the strengths of each individual, some of which result from the particular characteristics of their generation. Organizations can then foster a better understanding of team member’s background and perspectives.

Here are 3 specific ideas on how to do this:

Idea 1: Create an employee engagement program

We are sure you have heard about employee engagement before, and there is a reason for it. Research shows engagement to be a good predictor of performance. Therefore, investing in employee engagement programs is well worth your time.

What is the key to improved engagement levels, especially across generational differences? The key is to survey employee perception, have them be a part of the creation of engagement programs, and incorporate feedback loops to determine which elements work and which ones should be modified to increase and maintain the levels of engagement across all employee levels and ages.

Idea 2: Get crafty with company events

Person-organization fit theories posit that the compatibility between an employee and an organization is significantly related to important job outcomes such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, individual work performance, and turnover. More importantly, person-organization fit is highly influenced by an employee's perception of belonging, and relationships with other employees pulls a great weight in that perception. You can attempt to increase employees’ sense of belonging by creating company-wide events that span generational interests. By enabling employees to interact with each other in spaces other than work, they participate in interpersonal exchanges that foster group cohesion.

Team-building exercises are a good way to promote a sense of mutual support amongst employees. Furthermore, when group activities are tied to the overall goals of the organization, they can serve as a reminder of what really matters at work, and strengthen the ties between employees and the organization. So think outside the box and stop just going to happy hour with your young team members… instead think of events that span all generations like a holiday potluck, a book exchange or club, or a sillier event like bowling.

Idea 3: Create cross-functional teams

Diversity is often undervalued, especially the diversity of skills each generation has to offer. Creating cross-functional teams can tap into those skills. The benefits of doing so include, but are not limited to the gain of different points of view, the improvement of knowledge sharing, the breakdown of status barriers that result from stereotypes, innovation, and overall better solutions.

Next, we will look at employee management styles as part of the generational diverse workforce.

Generational Management Technique 2: Use a custom approach to managing employees

In her blog, millennial workforce expert Lindsay Pollak reminds us that “one size fits all” approaches to leadership are no longer effective. Simply put, the composition of the current workplace cannot be managed the same way it was some decades ago.

Although it can be difficult and time consuming to adopt a management style that motivates each individual team member, it is not impossible to do so. As a leader, instead of following stereotypes and making assumptions, you should survey your employee groups to determine the specific ways they prefer to be coached, and maximize leadership efficiency and employee performance.

Generational Management Technique 3: Adapt and encourage varying communication styles

The widespread assumption that younger employees prefer text-based communication while older employees prefer face-to-face interaction can sometimes be unwarranted. As an extension of our second recommendation, we suggest that you and the employees in your organization communicate with their colleagues, management, and peers in the ways each person prefers. You may be thinking this takes a good amount of effort, and you would be right. However, when compared to the amount of miscommunication that can be prevented, it is well worth your time. You also might want to extend these communication styles into how you manage projects or clients as well.

Generational Management Technique 4: Implement mentoring practices

Organization-wide mentoring programs have the potential to develop employees in significant ways. It presents them with the opportunity to learn from and teach others. To establish a mentoring culture, you must first evaluate the needs and desires of employees. That is, what knowledge, skills, and abilities are lacking in your organization and what the employees want to gain from a mentoring program. Often times, the implementation of mentoring programs fails due to lack of a comprehensive needs analysis (aka taking the time to assess what your organization actually needs to gain from this mentoring program).

You must also determine what types of mentoring would produce the best results in your organization. Would your employees prefer the traditional, one-on-one career development type of mentoring, or would they prefer a peer-to-peer or situational approach? Once you have found the answers to these questions, it is time to get buy-in from senior leadership. Without it, it will be difficult to reap maximum results. Having it will encourage employees to take advantage of the program.

Finally, cross generational mentoring will foster interaction between younger and older employees and lead to the acquisition of new experiences, perspectives, and skills that would be impossible if members of different generations didn’t interact with each other.

Our last technique is closely related to the person-organization theories mentioned above in that it is the first opportunity an organization has to hire employees that will thrive in the organization.

Generational Management Technique 5: Ensure that your recruitment process is generationally friendly

Our last recommended technique is to take a close look at what each generation values in terms of compensation, perquisites, and career goals in order to hone and refine your recruitment strategy to be generationally diverse. There are certainly differences amongst generations and they mostly relate to employees’ ability to contribute to organizations, flexible work arrangements, meaningfulness of the work performed, the ability to voice opinions, recognition, and the desire to build a career in one company alone.

Pay and benefits are not the only determinants of a perfect workplace, or at least not all across the different generations. Considering all these differences makes recruiting more difficult. It is important then, that if you want to attract and select members from each generation, your organization has something to offer every potential employee.

The Final Word

In essence, generational differences among employees can be difficult to manage, but they are also a great opportunity for your organization to thrive. What matters is that we take the time to understand these differences, cater to them, and make sure to engage all employees in working toward organizational goals. The performance of your organization depends on each employee. The previous techniques will help make your organization a more attractive one, where individuals will want to work, and employees will want to stay.