As leaders and managers, we must be tuned in to the many facets of diversity in today’s workplace. It’s not only the right thing to do, but “just makes cent$.” An effective “people strategy” built around diversity includes many dimensions, some we can see and other we cannot. One dimension - generational differences (age groups) - seems to be getting quite a bit of attention these days.

Today’s workforce is aging and we’re beginning to see some major changes that will impact all sizes and types of organizations - the exodus of the “baby boomers,” post-retirement/early retirement second careers, the focus on quality of life issues, and the number of Fortune 500 CEO’s under 40. We are becoming more and more aware of the complexities of today’s workforce and their impact on results.

The workplace environment that you and I set in place impacts employee morale, productivity and engagement – both positively and negatively. Remember...employees (of four generations) are driving your business results. In order to bring out the best in each generation, we need to understand not only what motivates us, but what motivates each of our employees. Flexing our styles is critical in creating a positive and supportive environment and in forging the all important manager-employee partnership.

In workshops and speaking engagements when I explain my “Equation for Success,” you’ll frequently hear me ask a couple of key questions:
• “Why are fewer employees engaged today?”
• “What is most important factor in employee engagement?”
Think about what your responses would be…we’ll come back to them later.

Jay Jargon, noted author of The Changing Nature of the Workforce, a futurist and Executive Director of research for the Human Research Institute, has tracked over 150 demographic, social, economic, technical, political, legal and health trends related to management of people in organizations. He says “harnessing the intergenerational workforce is the most important people strategy in the new workplace.”

Some major findings/trends from his Changing Workforce Survey include:
1. Prolonged shortage of top talent in almost every profession
2. Currently four generations of employees on the workforce at the same time
3. Increased cultural awareness
4. First generation of latchkey, dual career kids
5. Technology as a toy
6. Decline of loyalty and commitment - Today’s workforce is loyal to their profession, loyal to projects they work on and loyal to their supervisor, not the company
7. Strong need to define generations and to understand them in order to manage effectively

So, what are the four generations represented in today’s workforce? Traditionalists, (1900-1945); Baby Boomers (1946-1964); Generation X (1965-1980); Generation Y (1981-2000). Each generation brings their own view of the world with their experiences, perspectives, ethics, and values. And each generation forces society to look at life and work with a different focus, resulting in changes in workplace policies and procedures. It is not just coincidence that new programs addressing lifestyle changes, work/life balance, health and fitness – previously not considered key benefits – are now primary considerations of potential employees, and common practices among the most admired companies.

“Active adults” (sometimes called “retirees” or traditionalists) are using their skills in new careers as they approach their ‘70’s. Many organizations are reviewing their retirement policies and offering these seasoned workers part-time jobs. Baby Boomers are not only impacting the way we look at health and wellness, they are also reintroducing spirituality into the workplace. Much smaller in numbers than the Baby Boomers, Generation X’ers are concerned about maintaining balance in their lives. We have yet to see the impact of the largest generation to date, Generation Y. They relate more to the seniors in their values and ethics, are the most diverse of any generation, and are considered to be the biggest influence since the Baby Boomers. Studies show that Generation X and Generation Y individuals combined now make up a majority of the workforce and that majority will grow. I recently about yet another generation to watch, labeled Generation Z, aka “generation 9/11” (includes everyone born between 2001-2021).

With such a variety, how do we motivate, manage, and engage a group of employees that represents all four generations?

Here are a few ideas:
Traditionalists – like the personal touch – a handwritten note, less e-mail and more personal interaction; socialization is important to them. They bring value to the workplace with their experience and knowledge, and are hardworking and dependable.

Baby Boomers also like a personal approach from managers. They enjoy public recognition, and appreciate awards for their hard work and the long hours they put in. If you are working with Boomers, get consensus – they may be offended if you don’t include them.

Generation X’ers are good at multi-tasking and need constructive feedback to be more effective. But don’t micro-manage these employees – give them time to pursue other interests and even have some fun at work. And give them the latest technology – they are a determined group and will do a good job for you given the right tools.

If you have Generation Y employees, take the time to learn about their personal goals. They want to enhance their work skills by continuing their education. Training is important to them, as is mentoring. Consider matching your Generation Y employee with Traditionalists. They work well together and share some of the same values and ethics.

The Gen Z generation will face the aftermath of the Iraq war, the effects of today’s political decisions, and will be on the edge of the next predicted revolution, according to some experts. We’ll be learning more about this generation over time…

How did you answer the two engagement questions?
“Why are fewer employees engaged today?” Most people agree on the following:
• No understanding of what motivates different people
• Failure of managers to understand different styles, different cultures, different background, different generations
• Failure to praise and reward employees appropriately
• Employees don’t feel connected
• Distrust of corporate America

“What is most important factor in employee engagement?”
• Research shows:
o Trust in manager
o Fairness, recognition, praise
o Reward my contributions
o Set clear goals
o Opportunity for development

A few points about generational differences to remember:
 Before we can motivate others, we must first know what motivates us.
 Everyone is not motivated in the same way. Talk with your employees about what motivates them.
 Manage diversity and practice inclusion.
 R-E-S-P-E-C-T (Aretha Franklin said it a long time ago!)
 Don’t assume…you know what that means!

Now, back to the opening question: Do generational differences really impact the
workplace? The answer is “positively!” They can lead to positive changes which can benefit all employees and improve the results of your organization. The most important aspect of leading and managing these generations is to regard each employee as an individual with a valuable contribution to make. Taking the time to understand their perspective will reduce unwanted turnover, make managing less of a challenge and more fulfilling for everyone.

A Positive Workplace Means Business! TM

Author's Bio: 

Mary Jane (MJ) Paris, Founder and President of Positive Impact Consulting Services, LLC in Shelton, CT, brings a broad base of experience to her practice gained from more than 25 years in people management, sales, retail banking, training, recruiting, coaching, project management, event planning and community leadership.

With a focus on “The Positive Workplace,” MJ and Positive Impact specialize in leadership and professional development programs, speaking engagements, and small business coaching that bring “Positive Energy” to your workplace. Engage employees, maximize productivity, improve customer service and business results…