How to Manage Multiple Generations in the Workplace

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By Susan E. West
QuadWest Associates, LLC – Detroit SHRM Resource Partner

Something unprecedented is happening in workplaces all over the nation. For the first time ever, we have a whopping five different generations of people working alongside one another. That’s a massive generation gap. It can present unique challenges for any human resources department—with so many different work ethics, points-of-view and ways of looking at life, how do you create a working environment that is happy, efficient and productive? The answer is solid leadership. Learn about how to manage multiple generations in the workplace for a productive and high-morale culture.

Multiple Generations in the Workplace

The economy is partially responsible for the current diversity of ages in the workplace. Fewer people are able to retire than before—retirement is no longer remotely a foregone conclusion. Still, others simply don’t want to retire. As we live longer and generally healthier lives, seniors are beginning to feel they don’t have to slow down and some simply enjoy working.

With these changes, we are often seeing younger managers supervising older workers. This can, if not properly handled, lead to tension, resentment and conflict. Younger people feel insecure about being the boss of someone older, while the senior worker feels resentment about being ordered about by someone far less experienced.

Handling Tension

The important thing is to be aware that this tension is there. You as an HR manager need to help everyone understand that experience, while important, is not the be-all, end-all of the workplace. Everyone has something to bring to the table. Older employees have the wisdom that comes from years of experience. Younger workers have fresh, new ideas that may be untested but truly innovative.

What you need to do is help your staff embrace and appreciate their differences, but not dwell upon them. Help them get past stereotypes and labels. Don’t give someone special treatment based on their age, experience or skills set. Don’t stereotype or generalize any worker based on their age group or generation. By treating everyone equally and jettisoning generation-based assumptions, you will greatly reduce tension in the workplace.

Team Building and Mentorship

Building teams through collaborative efforts is a great way to create a community spirit and morale. Make partners of younger people and older people. Encourage senior workers to appreciate the new ideas of their younger counterparts, and the twenty-somethings to really listen to the wisdom and experience of the seniors. Somewhere in the middle, truly innovative thinking and approaches may emerge.

Mentorship relations can be very helpful, and it’s key to remember that a mentor isn’t always an older person helping a younger one. A millennial worker can be an important mentor to an older person trying to get a grasp on modern technology and approaches to work, just as a senior employee can mentor a younger worker in social situations, work ethics, and creative problem-solving.

About QuadWest Associates, LLC

Founded in 2004, QuadWest is a management consulting firm with a passion for uplifting Human Resource functions within small to mid-size companies.  Our team of professionally-trained HR Business Partners support a company’s success by providing strategically-focused, practical Human Resource Management guidance. We specialize in business driven HR consulting services, onsite and offsite, in the areas of: HR Operations Set-up, Employee Relations, Training, Performance Management, Compliance/Risk Management, Leadership Development/Coaching, Recruiting and Workplace Investigations. Our success stems directly from our commitment to providing clients with the HR services that meet their needs with the breadth and depth of our HR expertise found in our talented team.