How to Effectively Manage a Multi-Generational Workforce (Infographic)

Perhaps more than ever, the workplace is a multi-generational environment. Due to an unfavorable economic climate, relatively few Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are retiring these days. This leaves many managers with the challenge of managing teams made up of employees from distinctly different generations, each with unique strengths, weaknesses, needs and attitudes. Attitudes, in particular, are important for managers to consider. According to a massive 2015 study conducted by Utah-based software company, Workfront, the three working generations express frequently conflicting opinions of themselves and each other.


A good place for any manager to start is by addressing each generation individually and looking for ways to make those employees more productive, engaged and fulfilled. Take Millennials, for example—it’s no secret Millennials love their smartphones.  And while 55% of Millennials surveyed by Workfront describe their generation as “most productive,” older generations do not agree. Only 16% of Gen Xers and 6% of Baby Boomers describe Millennials as “most productive.” Managers may think banning smartphone use in the workplace is a smart policy to increase the productivity of Millennials, but that’s not necessarily true. A Pew Research Center study on mobile etiquette found 29% of young adults report frequent use of their smartphones to catch up on tasks they need to accomplish. Rather than cutting Millennials off completely, a smarter, more nuanced management approach would be to ban smartphone use exclusively during meetings, brainstorms and trainings.

Just as Millennials can benefit from more structure, Gen Xers can benefit from having new work opportunities. Gen Xers are very confident in their productivity. Workfront’s study found 74% of Gen Xers believe their generation is “most productive,” and a majority of both Millennials and Baby Boomers agree. To keep Gen Xers engaged, managers should look for opportunities to provide new challenges by giving these employees tasks beyond the purview of their normal jobs. Try assigning a Gen Xer to manage a special project, or to assist with a big client proposal.

It’s also important to beware of any concerns Gen Xers have with rapidly evolving technologies. Less than a third of Gen Xers describe their generation as the “most tech savvy.” Education and training related to technology can be very good for business. According to a study conducted by IBM on the value of training, eLearning initiatives can boost a company’s productivity level by 50%.

While Baby Boomers are the oldest generation and closest to retirement, they remain a significant segment of the workforce. According to the Pew Research Center, there are 44.6 million Baby Boomers still working today. For Baby Boomers, one area of concern is their ability to cooperate with younger generations (at least according to those generations). The Workfront study found 61% of Baby Boomers describe their generation as “most friendly/helpful,” but other generations hardly agree. Only 12% of Millennials and 22% of Gen Xers describe Baby Boomers as “most friendly/helpful.” One thing managers can do to bridge this gap, real or imagined, is implement more team-building exercises. Team-building exercises are broadly effective at improving workplace dynamics.

Once a manager has addressed the unique make-up of each generational segment on his or her team, it’s time to look for ways to integrate the generations and help people work better, together. One fascinating statistic to emerge from a 2016 Deloitte study of the Millennial generation, is that Millennials are very hungry for mentorship—61% reported having a mentor and 94% of those said they received good advice from their mentor. Given the vast experience and wisdom of many Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, it seems there’s a ready-made formula in place for establishing mentor/mentee relationships at work. Managers would be smart to initiate a mentorship program as a way to help integrate employees from different generations.

Managing people can be very complicated and challenging, especially when dealing with a multi-generational workforce. But like anything else, the rewards can be well worth the effort if managers are sensitive to differences and committed to solving problems creatively and unifying their teams.

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Tips for Employers Managing Part-time Millennials

If you’re an employer managing a part-time Millennial workforce, you know that it requires a different management style than times past. A common scenario is: The young employee who works part-time and is perpetually checking their social media channels. On the surface it looks like a simple management problem; the instinctive response is to crack the whip and demand that your employee focus on what’s in front of them and not tweet, Facebook, or Instagram during work hours.

But does that really ensure quality of work? The short answer is no. Therefore, what boundaries should you be setting to make sure Millennials stay productive while also acknowledging their motivations?

It’s a challenge that has existed forever, that of recognizing and working with different learning styles. There are shifts happening in how people work, and Millennials in particular structure their time differently. How that time is structured has implications for your bottom line; underestimating the motivations of Millennial employees can potentially cost you a lot. Here are a few things to consider to encourage your Millennial team members to find meaning and stay focused:

Social Media Usage

Facebook use isn’t a core part of most job descriptions, and even social media managers have to be careful about letting it usurp their time.

Keep in mind that, like most social networking platforms, Facebook is designed to be addictive. Every quarter, earnings calls are held and executives talk about increases and decreases in revenue made on the attention economy. They’re very good at what they do, and even if your Millennial employee has good intentions, they remain at the mercy of online marketing that mimics the addictive brain patterns and qualities of junk food or drugs.

The point here isn’t to make excuses; it is to acknowledge that if your employees use social media during work hours they probably already know it impacts their ability to focus.

The most positive impact may come from you saying “So you’re on Twitter a lot at work–it’s not off limits but I’m thinking, let’s figure out how to structure your time so that it doesn’t detract from your performance.” Get them involved in helping you restructure and solve the problem.

Communication and Loyalty Look Different Today

The type of negotiation mentioned above also reflects something else that’s changing: Millennials communicate differently. Their perceptions of loyalty (in both directions) are significantly altered from that of previous generations. In particular, Millennials are oriented towards more consistent communication, and they generally prefer feedback on their work in smaller, more consistent intervals.

If you take a deeper look at why it’s the result of a fractured attention economy. As the first generation of digital natives, they’re experiencing life where everything is on, at full volume, all the time. News, product marketing, even information among friend groups, all travels almost instantly and at times without context. In response, Millennials (and now Gen Z) have learned to always be processing.

This reality has affected their communication style–they’re still communicating the same types of things – just in shorter chunks and more frequently. Smart managers adapt to this and are willing to keep in touch often, helping to ensure that employees are on track each day instead of waiting for a review at the end of the quarter. When you think about it, that’s good for everyone. More checking in, more often, leads to better feedback and more open lines of communication – a big improvement over quarterly or annual reviews, don’t you think?

When it comes to loyalty, Millennial expectations have shifted as well. In the past, most employees had a different type of contract (both literal, and implied). If a company or manager provided goals and a clear vision, a steady job and benefits, loyalty was forthcoming.

But the traditional 9 – 5 work structure isn’t what many Millennials are experiencing. Often expected to work more hours, the rise of the gig economy means they do it without as much job security. By necessity, many Millennials are part of a freelance or entrepreneurial movement, and they often have what is commonly referred to as a “side hustle.” That’s not a bad thing; it just means they’re motivated in different ways than previous generations.

That entrepreneurial spirit represents an opportunity for leaders. Instead of laying out goals and how they’ll be achieved, smart leaders are taking a more collaborative approach with their Millennial workforce and involving them in the conversation. The goals and end game may remain the same, but asking your employees to play a role in determining how to get there can save you time and energy, and foster a more productive environment.

John Graham, a young entrepreneurial Millennial laid it all out in this short video he did on the Switch & Shift blog:

Be Realistic and Embrace (don’t punish) Side Hustles

Above all, the conversation with Millennials needs to be an honest one. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Consider this quote:

“I work in an at-will state (CA), and I realize I’m expendable. My reality is that I treat my employer with the same level of loyalty and expendability that they treat me. That is the paradigm of the new economy, and it’s why my side project, Albert’s List exists. It may sound cynical, but it doesn’t mean I don’t give my current employer my all on a daily basis. It means that I am a realist and I know that I could be out of work at any minute.” ~Albert Qian, Millennial employee

In some ways the conversation about how to work with Millennials (part-time or otherwise) is one that has been ongoing for decades with another category of workers: Creatives. We already know not to put artificial limits on how they work, and what makes them creative. As a more entrepreneurial generation, a large segment of Millennials see themselves as creatives. That’s not a bad thing by default; it just means the way people work is shifting.

When you think about it through this lens, it becomes easier to acknowledge that no one works for 8 hours straight. That may come as a surprise to some leaders and managers, but it’s a reality. For many Millennials working part-time, this means having small breaks and working in smaller chunks; the goal is to get momentum, and have a positive and iterative workflow.

In that workflow there is often some type of side hustle happening. With the gig or contract economy in full swing, many employees have a side project.

This doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Having a good, clear conversation about what’s acceptable during work hours (and documenting it) goes a long way toward protecting your company’s goals and creating agreed upon guidelines. Keep in mind that their side hustle may very well spark their thought process and creativity, which is a positive all around. Make sure to listen to your Millennial team. The answers for how to best motivate your part-time employees are already there, you just need to pay attention to the conversation that is happening right in front of you.

This is all incredibly important because, as Pew Research reported in the first quarter of 2015, Millennials became the largest generation in the workforce. As I stated in an article for Forbes, the way Millennials communicate has quickly become the way we communicate; Millennials are us.

Other resources on this topic:

Trying to Manage Millennials? Give Up and Lead Them Instead
Managing, Mentoring, and Working with Millennials
Millennials in the Workforce: What Really Matters to Them

Image : GetRefe

This article was first posted on MillennialCEO on 9/28/15