BEREA, Ohio—With the growth of today's multigenerational work force, business leaders need to broaden their perspective and adjust their expectations. Instead of managing a homogeneous culture, managers are now dealing with millennials (35 percent), Generation Xers (33 percent) and baby boomers (25 percent), according to the Pew Research Center. The remaining 7 percent are a mix of entry-level Generation Zers and unretired members of the Silent Generation.
Pew breaks down the generations by the following birth-year ranges:
- Generation Z (1997–2012)
- Millennials/Generation Y (1981–96)
- Generation Xers (1965–80)
- Baby boomers (1946–64)
- Traditionalist/Silent Generation (1928-45)
"Physically speaking, this shift toward more generations in the work place is due to a variety of factors—mainly longer lifespan and a gradual increase in the retirement age," said Connie King, director of professional development at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio. "With each generation, there are typically nuances, inherent to those in the generation, spurred by the environment in which they grew up."
To be competitive, today's business managers must be aware of those nuances in how each generation approaches work. While no generation is monolithic in its views, of course, studies do back up, for example, that the majority of baby boomers hold different values than most millennials.
"With these nuances come new demands and expectations," King noted. "Expectations, viewpoints, learning/knowledge intake, cultures, technology are just some the aspects that often vary among generations."
Generational integration and "clashes," she added, are no longer restricted to the homefront, where teens forming their own independent personalities often rebel against their parents. Managers should be aware that value differences may spark similar clashes in the work place.
One of the commonly discussed differences among generations touches on attitudes toward work. For instance, baby boomers are more likely to accept overtime hours as part of work place culture, while millennials may reject that and work only the hours for which they're paid.
Anecdotal evidence aside, King said she is reluctant to adopt broad generalizations. However, she admits that some things are obvious.
"The work place has evolved over the past 50 years and, therefore, some who have been in the work force that long may not be as comfortable in today's work environment," she said. "We have changed the way we communicate, now relying on email and text messages much more than face-to-face or phone conversations.
"That technology has also changed often where we work. There is a lot more flexibility and many workplaces offer options to work remotely or altered hours." Different generations may have different perspectives on how and where work is done.
Lori Long, professor in the School of Business and chair of the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship at Baldwin Wallace, pointed out that "differences can cause challenges. And when you consider just the differences in age between someone entering the work force and someone near retirement, it is not surprising that there are conflicts in work styles or values.
"What is happening now," she added, "is that the sheer number of baby boomers has created an environment where there is a heavy population of workers in the 'near retirement' age group. Some of the financial market challenges about 10 years ago resulted in many people delaying retirement and staying longer in the work force."
That changes the needs of the employees as well.
First, to manage a multigenerational team and deal with its varied needs, King said, it's important to start with the self.
"To me, it begins with yourself: knowing your motivations, leadership style, communication methods and behaviors," she said. "Once you relate to and accept you, and strive to develop yourself, you can better relate to others. Then, knowing the same of your team and your boss, opens the door to a more effective, cohesive and aligned workplace."
Like many area colleges and universities, Baldwin Wallace offers a number of professional development programs in leadership, including self-assessments, relational-leadership improvement, skills training, team-building and more, as well as graduate and undergraduate degrees to facilitate leadership.
"There is a lot of 'trendy' training offered on understanding generational differences," noted Long, "but learning about working in teams and developing your leadership skills is valuable here. It will allow you to understand how to work with people with diverse backgrounds, whether they are age-related or otherwise."