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The Benefits and Challenges of a Multi-Age Workforce

Here's how different generations can work effectively together

Corporate culture management

Creating a work environment that appeals to all the generations found in today’s workplace can be challenging. The companies that truly get it focus their time and energy on maximizing their employee’s potential, bringing everyone to the table, and providing experiences and training that benefit both company and employees. 

As I write in my book Culture Spark: 5 Steps to Ignite and Sustain Organizational Growth many companies have realized that the way to get good people is to actually treat them as if they’re good people. Show them that they matter. To do that you need to find out what’s important to them and build that into the business. Age is irrelevant.  

There are common desired workplace opportunities and requirements that cross the generations. When it comes to the hiring process, for instance, there are certain expectations that many Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers appreciate and that are regarded as commonplace needs by Millennials and Gen Z. They all expect a strong online presence and evidence that your organization embraces technology. That means a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, and an updated Glassdoor listing. At minimum, a professional career landing page is needed. The online application process needs to be slick and easy. Do not expect candidates to spend more than a few minutes applying. Your application needs to be easily auto-filled from a resume or LinkedIn profile. A personal touch from recruiters is also important. Form letters are a turnoff, and they will expect texts rather than phone calls. Overall, they will expect a positive candidate experience and, quite reasonably, will look elsewhere if they do not get one. 

One of the most powerful ways to appeal across the generations is flexibility. This concept goes way beyond flex time and telecommuting, although those benefits appeal across all the generations, if perhaps for different reasons. Do your benefits really have to be the same for everyone? Can you offer options? Many companies now give employees the choice of a 401(k) match or help with paying down student loans. Who does this latter option appeal to? Typically, younger employees. We can tout the value of saving for retirement to 20-somethings, but most of them are living rent check to rent check and will deeply value help with student loans. 

Paid Time Off (PTO) is another example. Make it a bank that employees can use for vacation, taking care of a sick child or an ailing parent. Realize that each generation has different life stresses and work-life balance issues to deal with and allow them to do so. Volunteerism is another opportunity for flexibility. Many organizations have “pet” or favorite organizations that they like to support and encourage their employees to do this as well. A more flexible approach is allowing a certain number of hours per year (preferably paid) for employees to volunteer their time for the non-profit of their choice. 

Companies also want to take advantage of each generation’s strengths. The value of building an effective multi-generational workplace is the same reason we want to build other forms of diversity. We create a more positive, innovative environment. We better match our customer base.

One of the best ways is to set up two-way mentoring programs. Baby boomers, especially those who have been with you for a while, have tremendous tribal knowledge and know office politics, something most younger, newer employees lack. They can be powerful mentors to new employees, coaching them on the unwritten rules around career advancement, asking for pay increases, dealing with difficult co-workers, volunteering for projects and so on. 

The younger generation can help with new technology adaptation and acceptance. We helped set up a client with a program like this: baby boomer employees mentoring recent college grads. The positive feedback was overwhelming. They cut turnover of the college hires who said they learned so much about how to be successful and the mentors were thrilled to learn from the new hires as well. 

There is no doubt that the different generations need to collaborate and work together. Employers need to know what they want and how to meet those needs.

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