Generations have always mixed together in the workforce, but today it appears that we are experiencing an unprecedented mix of four and recently up to five generations in today’s workplace. As each generation brings its own expectations to the workplace, managers are challenged to understand and respond in a manner that builds engagement and achieves results.
Not-for-profit organizations can better manage employees in different age groups if they understand some common generational traits and where differences may arise. Understanding where staff is coming from can also help maximize workplace engagement, which may be particularly important for the younger set, which has garnered a reputation for job hopping.
Current Workforce Composition
A not-for-profit organization may have up to five generations in its workforce: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Gen 2020, or Post-Millennials. The cut-offs for each generation are blurry, but for our purposes, we’ll say Traditionalists were born before 1946, Baby Boomers were born between 1947 and 1965, Generation Xers were born between 1966 and 1981, Millennials were born between 1982 and 2000, and Gen 2020 born after 2000. Millennials make up a significant percentage of today’s workforce—44 percent, followed by Baby Boomers (27 percent), Generation X (27 percent), Traditional, less than 1 percent, and Gen 2020 less than 1 percent, according to Bruce Tulgan of Rainmaker Thinking, a leading authority on generational issues in the workplace.
Organizations can do a better job of managing their multigenerational workforce by understanding how each generation’s approach to communication, motivation and relationships may differ from one another.
One of the places where technology has had a significant impact on the workplace is communication. Traditionalists tend to communicate in memos, letters, personal notes and individual interactions, and their preferred approach is to use a respectful tone with an emphasis on formal and professional language. Communication messages tend to relate to organization history and goals.
Boomers, on the other hand, tend to prefer face-to-face communications, phone calls, personal interaction and structured networking. Their methods of communications are likely to be informal, such as over a meal or coffee, and involve questions about mutual interests and input to build participation. Their communication messages are often rooted in the vision, mission and values of the organization.
Generation Xers tend to favor voicemail, email and more casual forms of communication. They look for direct messages, clear of any corporate speech. They want to understand why and how the message will serve them. Millennials prefer to communicate digitally, through email and IM. They’re looking for more collaborative interaction at a higher frequency. They’re also seeking messages that are respectful without being condescending.
With the differences in the expectations and mission of communication, there may be some clash points that arise in your workforce. If and when they come up, management should encourage employees to be direct about their preferred communication mode and style, rather than assuming one person’s communication style will be the same as another’s. Including communication guidelines as part of orientation may also be wise. Organizations may want to set “recommended” communication modes for different scenarios, such as an email for communicating data, phone for discussion and face-to-face (if possible) for decision-making.
Motivation might be another generation clash point. Traditionalists may be looking for respect, while Boomers seek status. Generation Xers may be looking for autonomy, while Millennials want structure and direction. Work ethic might also differ. Traditionalists tend to favor the idea of sacrifice for the good of the organization—that working hard will lead to an organization taking care of the individuals. Boomers tend to be driven and competitive, looking to outperform their peers. Generation Xers may look for more of a work-life balance. They’re less inclined to believe an organization will meet their needs. Millennials tend to go after work-life integration—while meaningful work is important, it is one of many priorities in their lives including family, friends, hobbies and community service.
To give each generation what they prefer in order to effective, managers may need to rethink how they reward and motivate staff and consider adapting approaches and plans that matter to each generation. Traditionalists may do best with acknowledgements of their expertise and experience. Symbols of achievement such as organizational awards or recognition in front of peers could be highly motivating to Boomers. Generation Xers will likely be motivated by professional development and flexibility opportunities.
With Millennials, there may need for more frequent feedback with boundaries and structure. Provide more frequent feedback in the form of respectful “course corrections” to reward the behavior you want to see from them.
Organizations may also want to consider creating mentorship programs and other “teams” that allow different generations to learn from one another.
At the end of the day, all employees want to know where they fit into the organization. Feedback and reinforcement should also be acknowledging the role the employees plays in the organization. Employees of all generations also want to be reinforced and provided with new challenges. Taking the time to think about employees as individuals with different reinforcement ideas can help keep your workforce engaged in serving the mission of your not-for-profit organization.
For More Information
If you have specific comments, questions or concerns about managing a multigenerational organization, please contact us.
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