Why aren’t my staff like …

… Chocolate Peppermint Creams?

Imagine you’ve had a tough week. You deserve a treat and on the way home you buy yourself a box of chocolates. They are your favourite. All the one flavour. Chocolate Peppermint Creams. You’re home and the place is all yours. You snuggle yourself into your favourite chair, grab the remote control in case you want music or TV for company, open up that book you’ve been wanting to read, take a sip of your fine wine and put your hand in the box. You pull out a fat creamy heavily coated dark chocolate. Slip it onto your tongue. Wrap your teeth around it and …ugghhh!!!! It’s not your favourite chocolate flavour at all. You try another, and another and another and you find you’ve got 5 different flavours in your box!!

Welcome to the new workplace.

Depending on which book you read, you may have up to five generations of employees at work to collaborate with and manage:

  • Veterans or Traditionalists born pre WWII
  • Boomers or Third Agers born post war
  • Generation X or Nexters born 1965 –80
  • Generation Y born late 70’s through to 90’s
  • and watch out for the upcoming Gen W! born late 90’s to now.

And every one of them is different.

Were one cynical (and that would be a Baby Boomer talking!) one might be skeptical of the current bandying about of generations at work.

The reality is, it exists. There is a market/workplace segmentation and what has created it is change. More precisely the unprecedented rapid rate of change.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing staff. In my view there never has been but the generational differences are reinforcing the need for diversity in management practice.

Take a little while to reflect on world events. The impact these have had on epochs of time over the past 100 years will make you start to realise where people are coming from in the workplace. For example, Boomers and to a larger extent Gen X became accustomed to the latch-key child phenomenon and became more independent. Gen Y were more ‘coddled’ by their affluent parents and so enjoy mentoring and coaching. Gen W will be almost born online so technology is just a way of life for them.

So, how do you adjust to managing these differing views, beliefs and behaviours?

15 Key Leadership Practices for Managing Generational Diversity

  1. Project-oriented, team-based work structures suit all generations.
  2. Take more time to explain things to really get people’s commitment
  3. Explaining won’t work always and they just have to be told – but make it the exception and pick only the critical instances.
  4. Be more open and questioning to raise awareness, clarity and acceptance and be prepared to be challenged on your decisions or actions
  5. Accept the need to be more open and transparent in your leadership
  6. Get clarity about the best method of communication for everyone on the team – everyone doesn’t have to get the message in the same way.
  7. Use their strengths – for more adept communications, veterans and boomers might be better; for communication speed and via technology – Gen X or Y.
  8. Recognise good contributions quickly and publicly.
  9. Create a sense of purpose, meaning and give feedback frequently and often as needed by each individual.
  10. Work out what motivates each individual and attune your rewards to their needs for example a Boomer might prefer a bonus while a Gen Y might like a day off.
  11. Regularly review the structure of work you’ve created and make sure it still captivates their interest and dedication.
  12. Acknowledge and respect the fact that time is an incredibly precious commodity and people would like to work more efficiently to spend less time at work.
  13. Make decisions faster, and keep working at being faster
  14. See what you can do about personalising career paths, training, benefits, rewards and responsibilities.  Workforce needs vary between superannuation and elder-care programs.
  15. If additional staffing is not an option look at contract or outsourcing to share the workload and achieve less pressure or stress (and claims) will become more  endemic.

On the metaphysical plane it is considered that unless one has awareness of a situation one is powerless to respond to it differently. So, too, in the workplace. If you’re a Baby Boomer Manager and you have Gen X or Y staff, you need to deal with them differently and have different expectations than your own. Same if you happen to be a Gen X Manager with Baby Boomer staff. Become aware of the differences and respond appropriately to harness an individuals optimum potential.

Recognise the generational mix of employees as a positive more than a potential for conflict and misunderstandings. Diversity brings creativity through varying views, thoughts and perspectives.

Now, tuck into that box of chocolates and enjoy every one – even if they are different flavours!

Copyright 2005. Melanie Wass is a Trainer, Coach and Speaker. With significant experience across human resource management, development and consulting Melanie is Principal Consultant with NATURAL, a results-focused training & development practice. Her work focuses on managing relationships at work through team development, leadership enhancement and a range of other programs such as Springboard Women’s Development Program using training, coaching and facilitation methods. Melanie is available through www.naturalconsulting.com.au.

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