Special Report: The Best Places to Work in IT 2014

Companies can't thrive when generations bicker

Ira S. Wolfe

Today's multigenerational workforce poses unique challenges to employers. If your organization lacks an understanding of what individuals in each generation need and want, you risk lower productivity, increased turnover and conflict within and between departments and teams.

Older workers can become frustrated when they work with what they see as an aloof, spoiled younger generation seeking instant gratification. Younger employees can become disillusioned with bureaucracy, hierarchy and the phrase "that's not the way we do it around here." Those stuck in the middle -- Generation X -- are annoyed equally by upstart millennials attempting to leapfrog over them and by graying baby boomers standing in the way of their rise through the ranks.

The way to keep the peace is to achieve "generational competence" by making adaptations necessary to meet the diverse needs of workers of different ages. Employers will be better able to attract, retain and motivate talented people if they recognize what drives each generation and take those factors into account as they develop approaches to recruiting, hiring, onboarding and employee engagement.

Here's my list of best practices for creating a great place to work -- for everyone.

1. Build a broad employer brand. For the first time in history, we have four generations (and soon five) working side by side. It's not unusual today to see a 70-year-old and a twentysomething in the same office, alongside people from several generations in between. Effective branding requires paying attention to each of those audiences. An older job candidate may prefer to tour your facility in person, while a millennial applicant will almost certainly watch a video tour online. Make sure your recruitment efforts cater to each.

2. Promote generational competence. Be aware that your managers likely need training on how to effectively supervise a multigenerational workforce, particularly when it comes to giving feedback. For example, boomer managers accustomed to once-a-year formal performance reviews may struggle with millennials, who thrive with ongoing feedback and prefer mentoring over constructive criticism. While all employees should be expected to meet the same standards, today's most successful leaders find ways to give individual feedback when and how their direct reports need it.

3. Mentor up, down and across your organization. Pairing less-experienced people with veteran employees can help multiple generations develop a better understanding of one another, in addition to transferring crucial skills. Mentoring partnerships are no longer just about matching a younger worker with an older, more senior employee. Ideally, mentoring and "reverse mentoring" programs foster the exchange of ideas and information up and down and laterally within an organization. Mentoring options include traditional one-on-one sessions, small-group meetings or discussion panels where a speaker presents to a large group.

4. Realize that we're more alike than we are different. The best places to work boost collaboration and engagement by focusing on shared principles and goals that all employees can embrace, regardless of their age. The members of your multigenerational workforce have more in common than you or your managers may realize -- and that's a strength worth building on.

Next: How we chose the Best Places.

Ira S. Wolfe, a workforce and employee selection expert, is president of Success Performance Solutions. He has authored several books, including Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization and The Perfect Labor Storm 2.0: Workforce Trends That Will Change The Way You Do Business. You can contact him at iwolfe@super-solutions or follow him on Twitter (@HireAuthority).

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