19/03/2015

By Sara Duxbury, head of people at Fletchers Solicitors


As older generations continue to work past retirement age, and young graduates enter the workforce, the modern office as we know it is developing into a diverse working environment. With three generations commonly cohabiting the same space there are a variety of generational values all trying to exist in the workplace. In some cases, this can create a breakdown in communication and managing staff members may become challenging.

The presence of large age gaps between colleagues is becoming more common and this can lead to challenges when it comes to trying to manage employees at all levels within a business - from those just starting out in their careers to those at a more senior level.

In order to effectively manage each group, it can be useful to start by looking at the diverse sets of values that exist between generations to understand what the differences may be. In most cases, issues will arise from poor communication between individuals who do not understand the expectations and methods of their colleagues and vice versa. Whilst you can't compartmentalise every person into a generation, the principles behind each group are important and can help to determine why a team of employees may not be working as well together. From here you can then approach the situation in a more mindful way and this can make management more effective:

- Baby Boomers: The term ‘Baby Boomers’ refers to those who were born after the Second World War. Although they experienced a shift in traditional social values such as divorce and birth control becoming more acceptable, this group still adopted the conservative values of their parents and grandparents in regards to work and their career — a job was for life. For this reason, people from this generation currently occupy positions of greater responsibility and are most likely to become workaholics through their loyalty to the job. The offer of flexible working isn’t something that will appeal to people from this group who are usually defined by their work.

- Generation X: This group is thought to be the most academically trained generation but also rejects the formal working environment that was desired by the Baby Boomers. This group supports flexibility in terms of the working environment — perhaps leading to the arrival of ‘Casual Friday’ - but also in terms of employment structure. They are in favour of a more horizontal structure as opposed to conforming to hierarchical authority. Throughout their lives, people from this generation will have experienced technological changes from video to telecommunications, making them naturally more flexible and adaptable in working environments.

- Millennials/Generation Y: Generation Y refers to those born between about 1980 and 2000 and as a result have been shaped by technology. Through this, they have become accustomed to less formal methods of communication such as email, text message and video calls. Communication is instant and less corporate with conversations usually taking place on a spontaneous basis. Perhaps this is why in the eyes of previous generations, this method of working looks unruly and chaotic or even rude.

As a manager it’s important to understand what makes each generation tick and adapt your leadership style to ensure the best out of each staff member.

When it comes to managing someone who is classed as a ‘baby boomer’ for instance, they generally work well when they know they are respected as it’s likely that they will have dedicated a lot of time to their company and want to feel as though they can trust their employer. It’s common for these types of people to be driven by hard work, a high status and competitiveness so you will get the best out of this group by offering incentives and rewards and by setting goals that they can work towards. They value: structure, strong work ethics and experience.

A hands-off mentoring style is favoured by Generation X as they are self-sufficient and value freedom and responsibility. It is usually the case that this generation is suited more to working alone so that they can set their own goals and be in charge of their work so offer them opportunities to manage their own work where necessary. They tend to be ambitious and eager to learn new skills so make work meaningful and exciting. They value: challenge, creativity, responsibility and change.

Millennials demand constant contact with their managers, supervisors and advisors. By arranging regular progress meetings with them, you can aid their personal development through the use of targets and goals so that they know how to advance to the next level. It’s a good idea to set targets by providing detailed instructions that also enable the Millennial to figure out a way of achieving the goal using their own creativity. Engagement and praise is key as they want to feel as though the work is relevant to them and that they’re doing a good job. Their constant enthusiasm to learn will lead them to ask many questions, so as their mentor, make sure that the door is always open. They value: rewards, promotion and development.

By understanding each generations’ differences, and learning how each group operates, you can carefully assess the most effective management approach that will bring out the best in them. This will ensure that you can communicate with your staff members and develop a productive working relationship. Incorporating the working styles of each group will ensure that employees feel included, valued and understood - thus creating a happy and manageable workforce.