Today’s workforce is more diverse than it has ever been before. The modern workplace is a culmination of individuals of diverse backgrounds – race, culture, language, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and age – thereby increasing productivity, morale, and competitive edge. However, a diverse workplace also makes the job of managers and human resources much more challenging.
Arguably, the greatest point of contention for managers in today’s workforce is having multiple generations working together. For the first time in history, there are up to five distinct generations operating side by side: Traditionalist, Boomer, Gen X, Gen Y (Millennials), and Gen Z (Centennials). As managers, we’re faced with the challenge of managing so many different needs, motivations, desires, goals, and issues.
Multigenerational workplaces aren’t a new phenomenon, yet the number of diverse generations has increased and have been distinctly defined by the pre and post introduction of computers, specifically the age of the internet.
The major dichotomies that exist in today’s multigenerational workforce have to do with motivation, loyalty, technological ability and adaptation, work ethic, and what success looks like. This difference of values can have a profound impact on the work environment, and things that were once considered quintessential to employee success have become moot. For example, Traditionalists and Boomers value company loyalty and view success as climbing the company ladder throughout their career. Gen X and Millennials, on the other hand, have a lack of loyalty to any organization because they believe they can achieve their life goals outside of employment; their job does not define who they are.
A Culmination of Talent
Despite all of these differences, each generation of employees brings a unique set of skills and style to the table. Traditionalists, for example, have experience and wisdom on their side, they’re very hardworking and will always put the company first. Similarly, Boomers don’t have any issues with working long hours, are skilled at their job, and respect the hierarchy of the organization (Johnson, 2016).
Gen X straddle the age of the internet and are the only generation who have lived half of their life with the age of technology and half of their life without, making them the perfect mediators between the oldest and youngest generations. Gen X are entrepreneurial, independent and results-focused (Chase, 2017).
Millennials are tech-savvy, highly educated and ethnically diverse, responding favorably to an inclusive style of management. And, Centennials are just beginning to enter the workforce as the first completely digitized generation that has always been connected to the internet and as expected, they are proficient in technology. These up and coming generations are highly diverse and independent thinkers and doers.
As managers, it is imperative that we recognize, respect and rewards the unique skills of each of our employees. After all, our goal is to attract and retain the best! The following will give you some guidance on how to do just that:
In order to ensure that key skills, knowledge, and expertise are passed on to younger employees, implement a mentoring, or knowledge-share program that leverages the expertise of the Traditionalists and Boomers before they retire
Increase staff retention of valuable, older employees through incentives, such as phased retirement and flexible work arrangements
Recognize that Gen X has assumed a dominant position in the workforce, by offering them more ways to achieve a work-life balance, such as providing flex time to work from home. In fact, they may even be more productive with this arrangement
Tailor the perks of employment to the needs of an age-diverse workforce. Cash and flexibility are consistent across the board, yet promotions may be of more value to Millennials and Centennials
Think creatively and brainstorm new reward strategies to determine what motivates your new hires
Re-think recruiting strategies and tailor them to the ‘new’ workforce of Millennials and Centennials. These groups prefer to follow their passions and may move on quickly if their expectations are not met
By increasing the frequency of employee reviews, you’re able to give employees meaningful and ongoing feedback, encouraging a two-way dialog. Also, you will want to define clear goals and link them to the organizational goals.
Celebrating Generational Diversity
Thus far, we have discussed several differences among the five distinct generations in today’s workforce. And, while it’s important to recognize and acknowledge these differences, it may be just as (if not more) important to recognize the similarities that are shared among employees; because, if too much emphasis is placed on differences, it may become impossible to bridge the generational gap.
Further, it is critical to not utilize stereotypes when describing your multigenerational team, as these are primarily used to foster discrimination against individuals in places of employment instead of recognizing that each individual is different. It is important to remember that each employee has their own work style preferences, worldview, and values.
Celebrating our differences, as well as leveraging commonalities is what ultimately bring employees together. After all, each generation has so much to teach the others. Multiple generations working together has great potential to create a stronger, more efficient organization.
The American Society for Public Administration conducted a multigenerational study in the workforce and concluded that there are, in fact, significant similarities among these generations. The following seven values transcend the generational gap:
Flexible work arrangements
Having a job that challenges
A company that provides continual training and development opportunities
The employee is involved in decision-making processes that affect an employee’s work
Being financially rewarded for the work employee does
Establishing Performance Competencies
Establishing performance competencies for a multigenerational workplace can prove to be challenging because essentially these standards tell our employees what they have to do and how well they have to do it. While this may work on some level with Traditionalists and Boomers, Gen X, Y and Z might not look so favorably upon them. It is pertinent to have these competencies in place, however, the manner in which they are delivered and discussed will vary by employee.
Why Knowledge, Skill, and Ability Still Matter
As we established, not all employees are created equal. According to Talent Snapshot, “Competencies are critical because they provide direction, are measurable and can be developed, can be learned, distinguish and differentiate roles and can integrate talent management practices.” Having established competencies allows companies to move beyond accountability to accomplishment, thereby increasing every employee’s contribution to the organization and setting themselves apart from the competition. An organization’s core competencies define the organizational culture, values, and expectations, with the ultimate goal of attaining a strategic advantage. Thus, each and every employee plays a crucial role in defining the culture and success of the organization.
Bridging the Gap Between Training and Performance
Professional development is paramount to improving employee skills and competencies; and, while these opportunities are valuable, there is a gap between learning and application. After all, we are only human and we tend to forget some things, while losing motivation for others, leaving us more prone to errors and less likely to perform to the best of our ability.
Leaman suggests that in order to bridge this gap, organizations need to adopt a more continuous learning model that extends beyond initial training to include learning reinforcement as well as performance support on the job. Here’s how organizations and managers can achieve this:
Get support from management at all levels in order to ensure support of efforts and changes
Embrace a more holistic view of learning that involves applying various learning approaches (i.e. eLearning, on-the-job training, information reinforcement), instead of focusing on one-size-fits-all training opportunities. When employees believe the tools they have to do their job are well-designed, efficient, and smart, they’re more likely to remain with that organization
Balance performance support tools with core knowledge requirements. There’s always a base level of knowledge employees must have to do their jobs well. However, it’s critical to strike a balance between the required knowledge and skills for your job, and the job support tools available to perform your tasks.
Of course, closing the gap between training and job performance is a work in progress, but it may be easier than you think. Much of these tools already exist, it’s just a matter of integrating these solutions into your organization. Aside from helping people do their jobs better, performance support provides more streamlined operations, decreases error rates and improves customer service.
Collaboration is the New Competitive Advantage
Today, the most valuable resource an organization has is its people. Networking is the buzzword of the century, and rightfully so. By having a strong network and a collaborative team, your company has already gained a competitive advantage. That’s why it’s critical for organizations who have not already done so, to shift in emphasis from “knowledge workers” to “relationship workers.”
In today’s complex, diverse and ever-changing world, it is important to have a larger number of diverse individuals working towards a solution together – that is the only way to reach first-rate results. Team collaboration and cross-disciplinary engagement with other colleagues and partners can help bring diverse perspectives forward to develop more effective and robust solutions. “Better solutions lead to better outcomes—for you and everyone in the company.”
Due to tradition, time constraints and the amount of effort involved, many employers meet with their employees once a year to undergo a performance review. At that time, the employee finds out what they’ve been doing well and any areas where they need to improve. However, if a particular gap in performance had been noted months prior, don’t you think it would have been more effective to mention at that time rather than wait for the annual review?
Fortunately, that’s where coaching comes in. With coaching, managers provide their staff with the opportunity to grow and achieve optimal performance through consistent feedback, counseling and mentoring. Done well, coaching is perceived as a roadmap for success for all. However, be mindful that there is a wrong way to do a good thing. Done poorly some managers can make their employees may feel berated, unappreciated, and even punished.
Accelerating Employee On-Boarding
In order to get employees on board with this system, Graham-Leviss outlines five key steps managers can follow for an effective coaching session:
Build a relationship of mutual trust with your employee through your day-to-day relationship, so they feel comfortable with this new role
Open the meeting by clarifying the purpose of the meeting, avoiding an evaluative or accusatory tone
Get verbal agreement from the employee that a performance issue exists – this is the most critical step in this process. Many managers make the mistake of assuming the employee understands the performance issue. To avoid this common mistake, make sure to specify the behavior and clarify the consequences by:
Cite specific examples of the performance issue
Clarify your performance expectations in the situation
Asks the employee for agreement on the issue
Then, clarify the consequences by:
Probe to get the employee to articulate his or her understanding of the consequences associated with the performance issue
Ask the employee for agreement on the issue
Have the employee identify as many specific alternative solutions to the issue as possible, and avoid the temptation to tell them your alternatives, unless of course, the employee is unable to think of any. Then, help them to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of these alternative solutions
Have the employee choose the best approach. Don’t make the choice for the employee. Make sure to get a verbal commitment from the employee regarding what action will be taken and when it will be taken. Be sure to support the employee’s choice and offer praise.
Measuring Performance Beyond the Classroom
Productive employees are the lifeblood of every business, that’s why it’s important for managers to monitor and evaluate their employees. In addition to the core competencies and coaching sessions, there are ways in which managers can quickly gauge their employees’ performance to ensure everyone is on the same page.
In ‘7 Easy Ways to Measure Employee Performance’, Rudolph describes these as:
Punctuality: Employees who regularly arrive late or are frequently absent are unlikely to be meeting their performance objectives. Before making assumptions, the underlying issue needs to be addressed: have they received adequate training? Do they get along with their co-workers and manager? Are they going through a personal crisis?
Quality of work: The timely completion of projects to the desired standard is a key indicator in measuring employee performance. Is the work being carried out average or outstanding? Are they committing maximum effort? Is their attitude affecting their ability to meet your expectations? Do they understand their personal performance objectives?
Observe personal habits: Perpetual bad habits can detract from employee performance. This may include indulging in office gossip, taking unauthorized breaks, disruptive behavior and the use of computers for personal reasons (such as social media, online shopping).
Check their attitude: A bad attitude will often manifest itself in insubordinate behavior. Again, this is indicative of an individual who is unlikely to be meeting their performance objectives. Typically, these employees will not comply with company policies and are likely to display disrespect for your company and co-workers.
Review personal presentation: Most companies operate a professional dress code, and employees who disregard these expectations reflect poorly on your brand image.
Carry out a client survey: The consequences of poor employee performance will ultimately manifest themselves in customer service. A client survey can quickly identify issues with individuals and enable you to get your business goals back on track.
Carry out random checks: Depending on the nature of your business consider implementing random checks against quality standards. This may include reviewing telephone calls and project meetings and inspecting records.
Evaluating employee performance should be carried out on an on-going basis and encompass all areas of their work ethic and individual achievements. And, instead of leaving your feedback for an annual review, regular coaching sessions will allow for immediate adjustment, benefiting your employee, you, and your organization.
Empowering Employees to Lead
As a leader, your goal is to empower your employees to take initiative and work autonomously in ways that are consistent with the company’s values and strategic direction. However, this is not always the case. Some leaders lack the training, time or focus to create an environment of empowerment. Daum has created Tips for Empowering Employees, which will help make your company a place where employees feel empowered to step up and take on this challenge:
Foster open communication so that your employees feel they have a voice, an impact, that they are heard. Help them understand that their input is valued even if you decide to go a different way. Make sure you acknowledge them for sharing and reward valuable input that helps the company.
Reward self-improvement through professional training opportunities. Oftentimes employees need a little more support or knowledge to go from good to great. Work with your employees on a plan for growth and reward them as they advance.
Encourage safe failure by giving employees the opportunity to try new things in a way that doesn’t put the company in danger. Create opportunities where employees can test new ideas and learn from the failures as well as the successes.
Provide plenty of contexts when describing what you require of your employees. They cannot read your mind and do not think in the same way that you do. Remember, it’s on you as the leader to impart your vision. That’s how you lead.
Clearly define roles so your employees understand what they are supposed to do, as well as their boundaries. Establish specific roles and responsibilities with employees so all are clear and can work together as a team.
Require accountability so your employees know when they are and are not meeting your expectations. Be consistent and diligent in your measurement and rewards so employees are motivated to do their best.
Support their independence so they have an opportunity to stretch out on their own and even lead others.