How to Get Company Culture Right in a Multi-Generational Workforce

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What do contact centres, start-ups and vast multi-storey organisations have in common? A diverse range of staff with individual needs and work ethics. We’re here to tell you how to get the best out of your whole team.

According to the Thought Leaders Solutions Forum’s report “Harnessing the Power of a Multigenerational Workforce”, the modern workforce comprises five generations: traditionalists, baby boomers, generation X, millennial, and gen Z. By 2020, millennials will account for 50% of the US workforce.

If your reaction to the above was ‘Huh?’, we’ll break these categories down into easy-to-swallow bites for you.

  • Traditionalists: an older generation of people who have been in the workforce the longest, they’re the most likely to insist on a paper report.
  • Baby Boomers: born before 1964, boomers put a lot of emphasis on investment and owning property.
  • Generation X: the MTV generation who are now starting families and looking for homes, but are more cautious with their finances than the boomers.
  • Millennials: born after 1981 and raised on a diet of Facebook, smartphones and Pokémon, these are the guys you go to ask about the latest tech or Netflix hit. Millennials value experiences over owning assets.
  • Gen Z: the next generation to join the 2020 workforce.

Most companies these days are multi-generational. Each group has its own way of working, which – if you’re trying to instil a certain culture in your company – poses a bit of a challenge.

Not to worry. We’re here to help.

What is company culture, exactly?

It’s your brand’s personality and values in action – the vision you want your employees to live and breathe that filters down to everything they do: think ethics, teamwork and attitude. Culture even affects the office furniture you buy. (FYI: hybrid sitting-standing desks are the current must-have.)

For most start-ups culture is everything, but as companies grow it becomes harder and harder to get everyone on the same sticky-note-covered board.

The challenges of having a multi-generational workforce

Your company employs approximately 75 employees. Because you are a predominantly digital company, about 80% of your staff fall into the millennial category. They’re an ambitious, tech-savvy bunch who love collaborating and live the values of your company. They all show up for drinks on Friday nights and were instrumental in the purchase of the office PS4 console. These millennials put a lot of focus on having a healthy work–life balance and enjoy working from home.

You also employ several gen Xers and baby boomers who place more importance on putting in the extra hours and expect their experience and seniority to be respected by the younger staff. This difference in values and work ethic has the potential to lead to conflict.

We know what you’re thinking: why not just hire millennials, then?

No. No. No. No.

We’ll tell you why that’s a terrible idea.

The benefits of having a multi-generational workforce

There will come a time in its lifecycle where every start-up has to quit being the very thing that defines it – a start-up. No more CEO answering the phones and responding to every Facebook query single-handed, no more CTO running around trying to patch up code so that the website doesn’t crash. Companies need office assistants and editors and system administrators and HR practitioners. This means hiring a diverse range of staff with differing levels of skills and experience.

So while millennials are great for handling the tech and social-media side of things, you need to look outside the group for individuals with the maturity and experience to ensure things don’t descend into chaos.

The biggest advantage of hiring gen Xers, for example, is their systematic approach to things. They’re the leaders, the planners, the strategists.

By getting all your generations on the same page, your burgeoning little business can not only retain the culture you worked so hard to instil, it can become something better.

A family.

How to create a healthy multi-generational workplace

Firstly, understand that everyone is different and support that diversity. So if a baby boomer or gen Xer wants to pull an all-nighter to finish a project, reward them with a hot dinner or give them a day off. At the same time, if your millennial wants to spend more time with their family, look at more flexible work hours or even allowing them to work from home a few days a week. It’s all about respecting and understanding your staff and meeting their individual needs.

Effective change management is one way to smooth over any bumps in the road. Get your team together and remind them of your brand vision and values. Organise a hike or lunch to ignite that family feeling.

Another method is to focus on collaboration and skills transfer. Your gen Xers can teach your millennials a thing or two – and vice versa. This way your team learns to appreciate one another’s strengths and ensures older workers don’t feel left behind and obsolete.

According to Bentley University’s “Multi-Generational Impacts on the Workplace” report, coaching is one of the best methods to get the best out of your staff. The report explains how 8 out of 10 millennials prefer their managers to act as a coach and mentor, and to provide collaborative guidance to help them reach their goals.

There you have it.

By embracing your multi-generational workforce you will always get the best out of your team. They’ll be more engaged and motivated, and they’ll work harder. More importantly, they’ll understand and respect one another and be more willing to work together.

We can’t think of a better company culture than that.

Author: Rachael Trickey

Published On: 25th Jun 2018 - Last modified: 3rd Jan 2020
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