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Keys to Leading Today’s Multigenerational Workforce

By Allison Davis | June 3, 2022 | Leadership

To say that the way we live and work has changed over the past two and a half years would be quite an understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic brought the necessity of adapting to a remote work environment for many organizations across a number of industries. And with the flexibility of working from anywhere and a historic drop in mortgage rates, many saw an opportunity beyond “working from home” to truly working from anywhere, moving when able to new cities, states and even different countries from where their corporate offices were once located.  

WHERE people are working, however, is not the only change we’ve seen over the last few years. Even prior to the pandemic, we’ve also seen a historical shift in WHO is making up today’s workforce and HOW leaders are adapting to meet their needs.  

According to an article published by NYU Assistant Professor Michael S. North, “Engaging the Multigenerational Workforce: Research Insights and Best Practices,” in conjunction with the SHRM Foundation’s 2017 Thought Leaders Solutions Forum, older generations of the workforce are growing as people are continuing to work well past 65. According to North, not only is there a larger proportion of people working over the age of 65 but this number is expected to significantly increase over the next few decades. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics backed up North’s claim in data released back in November 2021 stating that the older working population has grown significantly and is expected to grow 96.5% by 2030.

This delay in retirement for older generations has created a truly multigenerational workforce now consisting of FIVE different generations: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Gen Z. According to published findings from the aforementioned SHRM Foundation Thought Leaders Solutions Forum, the presence of so many different working generations presents “challenges due to different communication styles, work practices, and expectations from employers.” However, with these challenges also comes the opportunity to capitalize on all the different skills and perspectives these unique groups bring with them to the table. 

It is more critical than ever for leaders to work to understand each of these generations – how they operate, what they prioritize, what skills they bring to the table, where their gaps might be and how to bridge those gaps. There were several methods and key concepts shared at the SHRM Solutions Forum on how to create the most effective, powerful and high-performing multigenerational workforce. Here are just a few: 

Understand what your associates truly want and where their priorities lie. 

Too often leaders assume that they know what is most important to their workforce and act on that rather than going straight to the source and getting feedback from their teams. A great way to go about this is by conducting regular employee satisfaction surveys or creating a “KISS” (Keep. Improve. Stop. Start.) initiative for associates to provide commentary on what’s working for them and what’s not and identify gaps that the organization may be missing.  

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Make room for flexibility. 

Flexibility in the workplace is more important than ever when it comes to leading a multigenerational workforce. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution that can effectively cover all generations within your workforce. As mentioned above, leaders must understand what their employees want and be flexible in providing it. This includes flexible hours and work arrangements, locations, benefits, projects, and more. 

Offer opportunities for continuous learning and rethink growth and development.  

One of an associate’s greatest fears is becoming obsolete. The solution is continuous learning, and formal training sessions are evolving and adapting just as quickly as your workforce. Modern, effective training is delivered in smaller segments or chunks and accessible on a variety of devices and platforms. It should also come from experts who are knowledgeable and motivating, and it needs to provide a sense of community. 

Adopt reverse mentoring. 

Traditionally, mentoring comes from a top-down model of older, more experienced associates training and mentoring their younger, greener colleagues. However, taking full advantage of a multigenerational workforce means analyzing what each generation can offer the others. Many companies are initiating reverse-mentoring programs, pairing younger workers with older workers to provide mentoring on new technologies, like social media, and to share insights on the purchasing habits, priorities and perspectives of younger workers. This builds relationships across generations and often results in “mutual mentoring” where the mentoring relationship goes both ways between older and younger professionals, each sharing their knowledge to help fill the gaps of the other.  

Leaders, your workforce is rapidly changing and evolving. Don’t be left behind. It takes an intentional plan of action to communicate and engage with your team effectively. What steps will you take (or have you taken) within your own organizations in leading multigenerational workforces? We’d love to hear your feedback! 

Source: Harnessing the Power of a Multigenerational Workforce,” SHRM Foundation 2017 Thought Leaders Solutions Forum Executive Summary Report 

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