Veterans have the highest level of engagement at 41%, followed by 33% for Millennials. Baby Boomers and Gen X are distinctly less engaged, shows Gallup. Welcome to today’s cross-generational workforce. The possibilities and challenges it brings are many – distinct working styles, skills, communication preferences, career goals, and expectations. It’s almost like managing a family where multiple generations live together!

Many studies point out the characteristics of these different groups:

  • Veterans (born around 1940s): like formality, prefer a top down chain of command, and make decisions based on experience.
  • Baby Boomers (born before 1960s): believe that hard work and sacrifice can achieve success, seek step-by-step promotion, desire quality, and question authority.
  • Gen X (born between 1970-80): aspire for work-life balance, are skeptical, prefer structure and direction. They continuously learn and develop skills.
  • Millennials (born after 1980): are tech savvy, embrace diversity, adapt to change easily, seek flexibility, look to develop leadership qualities, are independent, multi-taskers, tolerant, and goal oriented.

What are the key people challenges such a mixed workforce brings?

Challenge 1: According to Deloitte’s annual millennial survey, 43% of Millennials say, if given the choice, they expect to leave their current employers in the next two years. The reason? They see a lack of development of their leadership skills and feel like they are being overlooked.

What you can do: create the kind of opportunities that they seek, and consistently cater to their strengths. Balance regular training, with access to challenging on-the-job tasks that take millennials outside their job descriptions.

Challenge 2: Gallup surveyed the Baby Boomers and concluded that they are less likely to be engaged than the veterans. Why? Veterans tend to find work more fulfilling, or are better at tuning into well-suited opportunities.

What you can do: create different ways to recognize good performance. A pat on the back would make Gen Xers feel appreciated, while Baby Boomers are more likely to enjoy having their names announced in a formal meeting.

Challenge 3: An office with multi-generational employees can have friction due to different mannerisms of working and learning. For example, millennials prefer tech-led opportunities for knowledge gathering, while the veterans believe in wisdom handed down by seniors.

What you can do: focus on the result, rather than the method by which work is done. Create a culture that plays to the comfort of multi-generational employees – be it using only PowerPoint presentations, or a blend of interactive apps. This creates an atmosphere of acceptance, flexibility, and tolerance.

And if you’re still looking for other ways to keep these diverse groups engaged, try cross-generational mentoring. Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, paired 500 of his top executives with junior associates, to apply reverse mentoring. Here the seniors learnt the use of the Internet from the juniors.

The more diverse your work force, the more variety and flexibility there needs to be in the strategies you use to engage them! Get creative!

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