7 strategies to effectively lead your multi-generational team.
Allow me to share a true encounter — As a newIy appointed CEO, I was scheduled to have a royal visit! Not the English royals, but a visit from the newest big wig — The Group CEO. It’d been a tough period, we were all transitioning to yet another restructure, another way of working and yet another set of new commercial persons brought in to oversee and in some cases dictate our activities from another location. To be honest, it wasn’t something unfamiliar to us — we’d worked as a team for a number of years. We knew how to do the dance, we knew how deliver. But as a proud team, we always wanted to be seen as the best and come out on top. No energy was spared in preparation and unusually money was no object as we rolled out the red carpet to the prescribed specifications!
Adhering to the time frame, the presentation by the Senior Management Team was cut short by the delivery of a curt announcement by said Group CEO “You’re all too old to be managing this business. You don’t understand what the next big app will be, you should be hiring kids still in school, at the oldest 20 years old”! At 52, I was the oldest person in the team and in the ultra demanding industry we worked in, it was hard to stay on top of all the stresses sent our way, a skill I’m sure no teenager would be able to maintain.
I recount that story to illustrate how an aging workforce can be seen as a deterrent to business and not a valuable resource to be tapped into. There’s no way that when sh*t invariably hit the fan in our volatile industry I’d have felt comfortable with a Gen Z’der shouldering that level of responsibility but my team with a mean age of 45 I would have rested a little easier.
Technology is changing the way we work, many organizations are focused on attracting millennial/Gen Z workers, hoping to hire and retain them while keeping them satisfied and engaged in their jobs. Although it’s important to value this cohort, the maturing workforce is a powerful source of tremendous experience and value to a business that requires and deserves planning and protection. They’re often extremely skilled, knowledgeable and productive with a professional, strong work ethic. The counterpoint maybe that they more expensive to employ due to higher longevity salaries, health coverage costs etc. but in my experience this is more than made up in what they bring to the table.
With increasing life expectancy and the moving retirement/pension goal posts, companies will naturally inherit/develop a mature workforce so what does this mean to your organization or you as a leader?
Multi-generational workforce — You may now be faced with three, four or even five generations of people working together. Each bringing differing work values and expectations which can create a variety of management and intergenerational conflicts. Are the “youth” enthusiastic, or green? Or are the “mature” wise, or just set in their ways?
A wider range of differing workplace needs — There’s a need to understand and deal with the issue of managing the needs of older employees. Whilst your employees are living and working longer and are healthier than ever, even the healthiest employees will be impacted as they experience age-related declines in speed, physical strength and cognitive ability. Something as simple as the company away day/team building activities may need revision to accommodate all age ranges. With organizations finally getting it right with pregnancy, how equipped are you to accommodate your inevitable menopausal employees?
Increase in age based discrimination and unconscious bias — An increased proportion of mature-aged workers also increases the risk of age-based discrimination and unconscious bias towards older workers (particularly in recruitment practices and policies). Think, we’ve probably all done it when recruiting — mentally estimated someone’s age based on their work history or their degree, or used LinkedIn for background checks again making our mental calculations. We do it innocently enough but our unconscious bias is undoubtly at play! While discrimination based on gender or race is often at the forefront of workplace strategies dealing with inclusion and diversity, age discrimination has until very recently received little attention. This is very likely to change given the participation levels of older workers in the workplace.
Communication styles — This can oft be the most difficult to bring together — think about how your children or younger employees like to communicate — very few spoken words but lots of Whatsapp/text based messages and emojis! Drastically different approaches to communication can sometimes make it difficult for everyone to come together in a workplace setting and collaborate effectively.
Can you flex your leadership style? — Not only will communication styles differ but how each generation prefers to be led will be a challenge especially if you’re a one size fits all leader! Some team members will prefer a more autocratic leadership style while others a hands-off leader. While there is no right or wrong leadership style, some work better when communicating within and between the generations. Generational differences have a large impact on reaction and it’s important that leaders and managers are able to adapt their styles to the preferred leadership styles of each in order to build trust. Which in turn improves communication among managers and employees as well as increased employee motivation and performance.
Strategies for leading a maturing workforce.
Fortunately, there are strategies employers can adopt in preparation of an ageing workforce to manage and retain older workers and these are just starting points!
- Undertaking an age audit and succession planning — by monitoring things such as the age of staff in particular areas and the age of people leaving, employers can best plan for future resourcing needs and the transfer of skills and knowledge.
- Unconscious bias awareness training — Conducting training for managers and recruitment panels on unconscious age-related bias and stereotypes of older workers to tackle unlawful discriminatory practices and unconscious bias towards older people in the organization.
- Reverse mentoring — Developing mentoring/coaching programs to promote skill transfer between younger and older workers, as well as training on managing and working within intergenerational teams to address the issues of working in multi-generational teams.
- Flexible working — Developing flexible employment opportunities and conditions for older workers to accommodate their needs. This may include redesigning jobs to accommodate physical restraints, offering job-share arrangements and implementing phased retirement options.
- Transition assistance — Assisting workers transition to retirement by running ‘preparing for retirement’ awareness sessions and sessions on financial counselling.
- Re-skilling older workers — Invest in education programs that assist older workers to be more efficient and to harness new ways of working (such as utilizing technology and social media).
- Accommodating the aging process — Especially for your female employees, with the menopausal woman being the fastest-growing workforce demographic, you’ll be unable to avoid it. Most women will feel uncomfortable addressing the issue so find ways to ease the transition for them whilst at work. Lose your embarrassment talking about it (it’s as natural as pregnancy!) Simple things such as personalized fan, extended comfort breaks or just a desk near an open window can make all the difference.
Being a multi-generational leader may appear daunting, but irrespective of age there are core similarities — all employees need validation and recognition to perform best at work and create an engaged culture. As the leader you just need to flex your style to deliver.
Plus, remember one day it could be YOU!