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Business Home > Opinion Analysis
Managing age differences in 
the workplace

Oksana Tashakova (MAXIMISE YOUR POTENTIAL) / 24 February 2013

Diversity is a key feature of today’s workforce and requires ongoing awareness and alignment ers. An important aspect of diversity management involves generational differences. Helping different age groups to perform well together and addressing employee engagement among these groups can be a challenge.

Different generations of workers have very different expectations and values in terms of autonomy, company commitment, work ethics and work-life balance. Life experience helps shape these values.

Workers born before 1946 value long-term employment and job security. Their life experiences have often created great respect for authority and economic certainty among them, along with company loyalty and strong self-discipline.

Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1960, have usually experienced more opportunities than those that came before them and are also less traditional. They are driven to succeed and progress in their own careers and are often workaholics.

Employees born between 1961 and 1979 belong to Generation X. With even more educational and international opportunities, this generation is entrepreneurial and individualistic. They tend to gravitate towards positions that allow them flexibility and self-expression, and are less respectful of authority, work traditions or corporate loyalty.

Generation Y, the “Nexters” born since 1980 in the midst of instant communication and information, are perhaps the least bound by company loyalty. These workers are motivated by work that challenges them intrinsically and provides external rewards. They are as mobile and fluid as the age in which they’ve been born.

It’s important for leaders to recognise that each generation brings unique and valuable contributions to the table in terms of creativity, innovation and perspectives. Be aware that every individual doesn’t fit a generation generalisation. What may be most important for managers to realise is that their own generation and values can affect how they view and manage others. Emotional and cultural intelligence is required to effectively stylise your techniques to best recognise what each employee brings to the table and how best to motivate them. It’s value differences, not simply age differences, that affect the workplace.

On the website “The Grindstone,” contributor Meredith Lepore offers more insight into generational differences in the workplace. Lepore points out that Baby Boomers believe in putting in long hours and are competitive; Generation Xers value autonomy and independence; Millennials or Generation Y employees are keyed into collaborative work and communication. Lepore spoke to organisational expert Jessie Newburn who added that Boomers respond to authentic mission statements and the big picture; GenXers are result-oriented in terms of the present; and Millennials value innovative and new solutions.

So how do you best manage diverse generations of employees? Awareness of your own values and that of others is important. So, too, is helping workers to appreciate and recognise the contributions of different generations. I suggest individualising your management practices and avoiding blanket policies, offering flexibility in terms of work-life balance, and promoting connection and sharing between different generations of workers.

To individualise management policies concerning values, consider offering options when it comes to work-life balance. Some employees may want educational support, others a flexible work schedule. What kinds of leave do you offer your employees surrounding health and family matters? Outside training and education? Are there different ways for employees to put in hours? How do you balance hours put in versus results? Short-term versus long-term? Do you offer a variety of training methods for employees to choose from? Some workers may value a hands-on approach, others a classroom experience and still others, independent online tutorials.

Help your employees to connect, no matter their differences, so that they can learn from each other. Build social events into your workplace, encourage information and insight-sharing, and construct generationally-diverse project teams. This can help employees better understand each other. Consider diversity training programs to build cohesiveness among your workers.

The writer is an executive coach and  HR training and evelopment expert. She can be reached at oksana@academiaofhumanpotential.com or www.academiaofhumanpotential.com. Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy


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