Gen Z has finally made its way into the workforce. In fact, the youngest generation of employees is expected to make up more than one-quarter of the working population in just two years. The other three-quarters will be a mixture of Millennials, Gen Xers, and not-ready-for-retirement Baby Boomers. This means you’ll be expected to figure out how best to lead a multi-generational workplace.
That’s a significant “ask” by anyone’s measuring stick. Gen Z has already shaken up the status quo with their completely different outlook on the employer-employee relationship. (Spoiler alert: They expect to be treated like peers by everyone, earning them a “hardest generation to manage” badge from bosses.) However, Gen Z isn’t alone in their unique desires. Boomers are competitive and want visibility. Gen Xers prioritize education and self-sufficiency. Millennials expect fairness and hope their work can have meaning.
Where does this leave you? If you’re like a lot of leaders, you’re trying to unravel how to ensure everyone’s needs are met to avoid mass productivity-tanking and profitability-harming churn.
Before you assume you’ll never be able to solve this mystery, take a deep breath. It’s not as hard as it may seem to get everyone on your team moving toward the same target. You just need to put some basic strategies into place. Try the following suggestions. They’ll help you foster a working atmosphere that feels comfortable for all the people on your payroll.
1. Task cross-generational teams with innovation-related projects.
Chances are high that you’re already looking for ways to bring more innovation into your company. One way to prompt innovative thinking is by setting up diverse teams that bring differing experiences, backgrounds, histories, and visions. A diverse team made up of employees from at least two or more generations has the capacity to come up with novel solutions for your organization.
Author, keynote speaker, and innovation strategy consultant Dr. Simone Ahuja is an advocate for purposefully constructing multi-generational teams and coaching them to think like intrapreneurs. As she explains, “Diversity leads to more and better ideas—and more innovation-related revenue.”
Ahuja adds that making multigenerational teams the norm could be an exceptional way to attract talent:
“Cross-generational collaboration is a significant differentiation that large organizations can offer new generations who need institutional knowledge and leadership development, and more established workers who may need help with areas including technology and maintaining cognitive flexibility.”
Remember, cross-generational teams have a side benefit of fueling the cross-pollination of ideas. Over time and with constant practice, you would wind up with a group of workers who naturally mingle despite generational gaps. As a result, you may realize that mentorships are happening organically between seasoned and newer workers. In that case, consider leaning into the trend and constructing formal mentorship programs as part of your succession (and successful!) planning.
2. Design inclusive workspaces and scheduling arrangements.
Have you been anticipating a silver tsunami of retirees in your workforce? Rather than sitting back and letting the waves carry away some of your most committed, long-term workers, consider revamping your workspace and workflows. Making everything more inclusive can help you retain your longest-tenured people and avoid losing all the inherent know-how they have.
For example, you may want to rethink the way that your office is laid out based on everyone’s ages and related needs. You may also want to make it easier for your employees to flex their scheduling or even switch to part-time hours without losing some of their key benefits. According to one study, most Boomers would rather work occasionally than stop working completely. And Gen Z and Millennials appreciate the ability to arrange their “on” hours to suit their preferred lifestyles and personal obligations.
There’s no downside to updating the entire structural makeup of your working spaces and protocols. As long as duties are getting done and clients’ needs are being met, you’ll reap lots of immediate and long-term rewards. And if you’re not certain what “inclusive” workspaces and schedules look like for your team members, ask them. Gathering feedback through surveys and focus groups should give you an understanding of how to best serve every generation in your company.
3. Continue staying flexible in all forms.
Before the pandemic, flexibility at some companies meant being able to take an hour off early once in a blue moon to go to an appointment or watch your kid’s soccer game. Now, flexibility has a whole new face—and you may not be giving it enough “face time” or credibility as you think. The concept of flexibility can mean so many things: flexible schedules, the ability to work from home, unlimited vacation… the list is long.
It may not be possible for your company to offer all your workers all the flexibility options they want. Still, don’t automatically say “no” when a request for flexibility crosses your executive desk. An ADP Research Institute survey in 2022 showed that 64% of workers said they would quit their job if they couldn’t operate under at least a hybrid (if not fully remote) flexible schedule. Those weren’t just Gen Z employees, either; the survey included multigenerational respondents.
Cross-generational connection prepares you for continued success
The point is that the traditional way of work just won’t cut it any longer. But the evolution of the workplace doesn’t seem to be done quite yet. Other ways to offer flexibility may start to arise as we move forward, and you can’t allow yourself to be left behind.
Keep your ear to the ground on what other companies are doing to remain flexible. Whenever reasonable, beta test some of the best solutions within your own team. Even if some efforts don’t work, your employees will see that you’re trying to meet them where they are instead of forcing them to bend to old-fashioned working demands. That’s sure to boost morale and keep confidence high, as well as show that you’re looking out for all the generations represented by your personnel.
The next time you find yourself lamenting the mishmash of generations that make up your company, stop. Yes, it’s challenging to figure out how to keep them all satisfied. But it’s worth the time and energy to ensure that all voices are welcome on your team.