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How to handle a multigenerational workforce

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Diversity is a big factor for several companies today. Whenever they talk about diversity they usually mean cultural, ethnic and gender diversity. But one factor in diversity that is often overlooked is the importance of handling a multigenerational workforce properly.

The three generations in the workforce today are: Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Gen X (1964-1982) and Gen Y/Millennial generation (1982 onwards). All three generations are working together today and bringing their own values and beliefs to the work place. The challenge is to have in effect policies that manage and motivate all employees for a productive work environment. Each group has its own communication style, personal experience and expectations.

The current recession is making Baby Boomers stay in their jobs longer than they expected. Many who had retired early are getting back into the workforce or are looking for an opening. They are ready to do work as consultants and sub-contractors. Those who were planning to retire have also postponed those plans. Gen X is bearing the brunt of the recession with families to support and kids in college. Gen Y is relatively new in the workforce and its younger members are just entering the workforce. The slow economic recovery can result in all these employees being insecure about their jobs.

Baby Boomers are often insecure vis-a-vis their younger counterparts since Gen Y can work for a smaller salary with fewer benefits. Most of them do not have families to support and having little or no work experience, are not in a position to demand a higher salary compared to Baby Boomers and even Gen X. These sorts of issues need to be addressed so that the companies can get a full input from all their employees and productivity is not affected. As an HR manager, it will be your responsibility to know about the strengths of each group and bring them out. It will be up to you to set the standards and policies for the workplace. If your actions and attitudes towards your staff seemed marred by you being uncomfortable with their age differences, other employees are going to pick up on that.

You will also need to be aware of the existence of any stereotypes about any generation. That is just ageism. And it is not just older workers who are at the receiving end of it. Some older workers believe that younger workers have no loyalty to their companies and are incapable of following well-established procedures. Older managers may also believe that younger workers do not have family responsibilities and so will dump a lot of work on them. Younger workers need a work-life balance as much as the older workers with families do. The biggest stereotype that older workers face is the thinking among management that older workers are resistant to change, unwilling to learn new technologies and procedures. They are also thought of as being too comfortable with the status quo and not being able to bring new ideas to the table. But every employee is unique. Just because an employee is 50+ does not mean that he doesn’t know about the latest tech trends and management buzzwords. Employees from different generations can be encouraged to work with each other on team building activities, mentor the younger ones and be given new opportunities for learning.
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