4 Steps to Becoming a Better Multi-Generational Leader

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There’s no question that the workplace is changing. One major driver of change is a dramatic generational shift — many offices have employees spanning four generations. Each generation has unique goals, experiences, and perspectives. “A Guide to Leading the Multigenerational Workforce” presented by MBA@UNC, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program, and based on a white paper from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School Executive Development helps leaders understand different generations and how to effectively lead a multigenerational workforce.

According to an EY study on generational shifts in the workplace, 75 percent of managers report that managing multiple generations in a workplace is a challenge. But, addressing the generation gap leads to improved corporate culture, improved competitiveness, improved employee retention and morale, and more effective recruiting.

Fostering a multigenerational office is no longer a “nice to have;” it’s a “must do.” Following are four steps to that can help managers become a better multi generational leader.

Step 1: Understand (and Appreciate) Generational Differences

To bridge the generation gap, we must first understand key characteristics of each generation in today’s workplace.

Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, comprise 31 percent of the workforce (56 percent of whom hold leadership roles) and own 4 million companies. Baby Boomer brain drain is a significant problem: nearly 70 million are expected to retire over the next decade. This generation views work as a career rather than a job and prefers face-to-face communication.

Generation X, born between 1965 and 1979, is considered the best generation for generating revenue and building teams. They are known for leading the dot-com boom and taking charge as entrepreneurs. Generation X values straightforward feedback, a hands-off management approach and work-life balance.

Millennials, born between 1980 and 1995, see the world differently from other generations. They are the first generation of digital natives and the most ethnically diverse generation. They crave meaningful work that contributes to their organization’s mission. But, they are also prone to frequent job changes as they seek employment on their own terms.

Generation Z, born between 1996 and 2010, is new to the workforce. More digitally connected than millennial, they spend most of their time on a device. Their entrepreneurial spirit is strong: 72 percent want to start their own business, and 3 percent already have.

Step 2: Focus on Similarities

Although each generation has different cultural touch points and values, they aren’t all that different. A recent survey shows striking similarities in what people expect from a workplace. All generations agreed that:

• We want our organizations to succeed.
• We want the same thing from our leaders.
• We want some measure of success in our careers.
• We are aging: All generations have different needs at different life stages.
• We will face challenges in the future.

Step 3: Bring Generations Together

Leaders must develop tools that honor each generation’s contributions while emphasizing areas for collaboration. Here are some strategies to help leaders get started.

• Create programs that encourage generations to work together. Build coaching and mentoring programs and encourage generations to share their knowledge with one another.
• Cultivate leadership. Develop a culture that emphasizes employee decision-making, encourage managers to lead by example and hold staff accountable, and support programs that help identify and foster future leaders in the organization.
• Create communications strategies that reflect generational preferences.
• Help staff face workplace changes through change management programs.
• Build diverse teams of all ages, cultures, and genders.

Step 4: Recruit and Retain Employees of all Generations

To capitalize on the benefits of a multigenerational workforce, you need to develop one. These strategies help recruit and engage staff of all ages.

Baby Boomers
• Keep them on staff as long as possible through phased retirement plans to avoid brain drain.
• Incentivize them to share their experience with other staff.

Generation X
• Start developing future leaders today through vertical and horizontal career development paths.
• Offer autonomy and a flexible work culture to help staff thrive.

Millennials
• Develop opportunities for progression, mentoring and to do meaningful work.
• Leverage their technical capabilities by creating reverse mentoring programs.

Generation Z
Go mobile. For a generation that grew up with smartphones, rethink the way you communicate and recruit.
• Hire based on experience rather than education. Faced with the mounting cost of college, people in this generation may seek alternate education sources.

By becoming a better leader in a multigenerational workplace, you can capitalize on the benefits each generation has to offer, build a better corporate culture, and win the war for top talent.

This article, based on a white paper titled “Managing the Multigenerational Workplace,” is brought to you by MBA@UNC and is based on expertise from UNC Executive Development.

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