Multiple generations, from traditionalists to baby boomers to gen Xers, bring a variety of knowledge, skills, and perspectives into the workplace. The millennial generation has jumped into the mix, providing great potential upside for middle market firms who know how to bring generations together toward a common goal. But if you don’t have a blueprint for getting these different age groups to understand, respect, and trust each other, your middle market firm might not withstand the productivity drain that results from such discord. Here are some things to consider.
- The foundation for creating synergy between the millennial generation and older employees starts with team building. “People want to grow, people want to be listened to, and people want to feel they are important,” notes Kerry Henderson of business communications firm Gibbs & Soell in a recent article on engaging different generations in the workplace. Anne Houlihan, founder of consulting firm Elevated Leadership International, further underlines the value of team building in order to get employees to buy in to a collaborative learning environment where people of different backgrounds can all contribute their specific strengths. “Realize that each generation brings wonderful strengths to the workplace,” Houlihan explains. “While focusing on our own individual strengths is certainly important, imagine how much more effective everyone on your team could be if [they] learned from the strengths of others as well. Publicly acknowledge what each generation’s strengths are and encourage everyone to share their viewpoints and values with the group.”
- Team-building exercises can expose assumed stereotypes. In a phone interview with the NCMM, Houlihan talked about some of the common obstacles she encounters at client firms. “Many veterans have a hard time respecting employees who have been on the job only a few years and who they perceive to be unwilling to put in as much effort. On the flip side, many younger employees believe that veterans are averse to technological advances that bring efficiency and are generally stuck in outdated ways of thinking and operating.” You must create an informed respect between the different generations that allows them to better communicate, share ideas, and help one another.
- Management must take additional action besides team building. Houlihan holds weekly meetings with department leaders to reinforce the idea that employees must stay connected so that they trust each other enough to be able to ask for help and tap into each other’s strengths. “I want my department heads fully on board with that vision,” she says. “I know that, for larger firms than mine that have more departments, this can be a bit more difficult. But for a middle market firm to reach its full potential, it has to be done.”
- Form diverse committees. Just as important as management getting together is the idea that firms should develop a committee comprised of employees from each generation. The goal here is to allow for frank observations and questions in a private setting so as to better understand the viewpoints of employees from different generations and how these manifest themselves in the daily actions of employees. These meetings can be casual at times, but when there’s a need for it, members can hash out specific situations involving employee friction. This will help committee members understand different generational perspectives on a topic, and each member can then go back and provide insight to others within his or her own peer group, all for the benefit of the firm.