HR and Recruiting

5 tips on managing different generations in the workplace

Written by Michael Hoon

Generations have their own rules. They speak their own languages, have their own cultural references, and have their own attitude quirks particular to their maturity. This can present a real challenge for the manager or human resources professional who must deal with a diverse staff of 20-somethings to 60-somethings.

While a 2012 meta-analysis of published and unpublished data concluded that there are no significant differences between generations, there are significant differences between how younger employees and older people operate in the office, and the effective manager cannot ignore those differences. Here are six tips for coping with those generational differences head on and successfully.

1. Recognize and embrace the differences

As we’ve already hinted, one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a manager when faced with age-related issues is to pretend that the employee’s generation is not an issue. The key is to get comfortable and familiar with how age factors into work personality and adjust your approach accordingly. What will work when dealing with, say, a 25-year old employee who has motivation issues and a 45-year old employee who has become complacent after decades in the same office will not be the same.

Understanding where different people are coming from can help you tailor your tone, spoken language, and body language. Don’t treat people differently—just communicate in the clearest possible way, depending who is on the receiving end.

2. Break out of routines

Strict routines may be an effective way to acclimate young, new employees to their office duties, but having to do the same thing every day can be suffocating for the older employee. Feeling stuck in a rut can be both dehumanizing and demotivating for individuals who’ve been with the company for a long time.

Don’t downplay the disillusionment of an older employee who complains about feeling trapped in a routine. Help that employee break out of tiresome patterns while still being able to complete his or her tasks. You may even want to consider having such employees swap tasks to keep their workday fresh. They will be happier and more productive with a little change in routine.

3. Be aware of generation-based hurdles

The workplace is constantly evolving, and this can be a problem for employees who’ve been at the job for too long. For example, an IT pro who has been in the same position for a decade may be slower to embrace new technology than a younger employee would. A younger IT worker may be short-tempered with an older one who doesn’t understand new computer-based problems.

Ensuring that everyone is kept on top of the latest developments may clear out potential confusion and defuse potential conflicts that arise from age differences.

4. Team them up

They may have different ways of speaking or different attitudes toward work, but all employees are people regardless of age. This unfailingly becomes clear when employees from different age groups are encouraged to interact.

Left to their own devices, employees may tend to bunch up in age-based groups. So it can be helpful to use team-building activities or develop collaborative projects that pair younger employees with older ones to foster a greater atmosphere of understanding in the office. If they have different skills particular to their ages, they may even teach each other a thing or two.

5. Keep other managers informed

As you become more sensitive to the quirks of members of different generations in your office, be sure to share that information with your fellow managers. For example, if you find that younger employees are more likely to job hop— and a 2016 study did, indeed, report that a whopping 21% of Millennials left their jobs during that year compared to just 7% of older employees— make sure that your fellow managers are tuned into that issue so they can better hold onto younger employees they can’t afford to lose. After all, the name of the game is building a stronger staff with better communication between all managers and employees.

Stay open, stay informed, stay communicative, and the employees you manage will be more satisfied and effective no matter how old they are.

About the author

Michael Hoon