Managing Generation Gaps in the Workplace

Monday, October 27, 2014

As amazing as it sounds, many modern Canadian employers have up to five social generations working together at any given time. This phenomenon has been attributed to a combination of longer life expectancies and a desire to increase insufficient retirement income. Regardless of the reason, management is left with the task of bridging the gaps to ensure an engaged and productive workplace. This challenge, coupled with Canada’s current labor shortage, makes effective human resource management a highly significant success factor for any organization.

The Canadian workforce can be divided into five distinct social generations:

  • Veterans Workers born before World War II account for more than 5% of the Canadian workforce. This generation is characterized by abundant legacy knowledge and experience.
  • Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1965 account for nearly 40% of the Canadian workforce. They possess strong work ethics and hold mostly senior level management roles.
  • Generation X workers born between 1966 and 1980 account for approximately 32% of the workforce and are spread across mid-level and senior level management.
  • Generation Y or Millennial workers born between 1981 and 2000 account for more than 23% of the Canadian workforce. This generation is known for its ambition, optimism and goal-oriented approach.
  • Generation Z workers born after 1991 account for a fraction of the Canadian workforce. They are extremely tech-savvy, and prefer to work in teams

As a manager, there are certain strategies that you can implement to create productive cross-generational work environments:

  • Recognize and respect differences.  One size does NOT fit all. Different generations have marked differences in communication and work styles.  What works for the Veterans probably won’t fly with the Ys.
  • Tailor your training methods to your audience.  Technology diffusion happens pretty rapidly with generations Y and Z; whereas the older generations may not adapt as quickly.
  • Make use of all expertise.  Mentorships can be multigenerational.  Encourage older generations to share legacy experience, and younger generations to share technical skills. 
  • Acknowledge employee feedback.  Regardless of generation, all employees need to feel as if they are contributing to the workplace culture through suggestions and feedback.
  • Appreciate and recognize. Understand what motivates your workforce.  Generations Y and Z need to feel appreciated at work and are often satisfied with a ‘thank you’  or ‘job well done’;  while older generations like the Baby Boomers often prefer more tangible recognition like a certificate or award.

The multigenerational workplace is a Canadian fact of life; and with ever-increasing life expectancies and growing population straining government income, there is little chance of that changing anytime soon.  Smart managers are working with the trend by leveraging the advantages of generational diversification to create better and stronger workforces.

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