Keri Allan 20 Feb 2019 02:57pm

How businesses can best manage different generations

As a new generation reaches working age and older staff delay retirement, businesses could see up to five different generations working together

Office boss
Caption: Teams are now comprimised of varying ages with widely differing skill sets and outlooks

This can lead to management challenges as each may approach their work differently. However, age diversity has many benefits, providing the workplace with fresh ideas as well as knowledge and experience.

According to City & Guilds Group research, the under-25s and the over-65s are the two fastest-growing segments entering the workforce. Therefore, managers are likely to have team members with widely differing skill sets and outlooks.

But people are people, says Chris Dyer, author of The Power of Company Culture, so start there. “Find out what connects the group and how best they can work together. Those differences will often become strengths.”

Workplace expectations naturally change over time and are influenced by both generational views and the different stages in a person’s life. Good managers adapt their leadership style to each of their employees, understanding what motivates them.

“People’s priorities change over time,” says Gavin Sumner, VP sales at MarketInvoice. “As a manager you need to be aware of what’s most important to an employee at that moment. I encourage my managers to have honest conversations with staff as much as possible, to make sure they’re clear on what they want to achieve.”

Managing younger workers

Generations are characterised as having certain views and values. For example Gen Y, the millennials, are viewed as enjoying collaborative and flexible working. They also want to make a societal impact, “so helping people see how their role makes a difference, for example the value of audit to society, is really important,” says Laura Hinton, head of people at PwC.

The workforce profile for Generation Z, the newest group to hit labour force, is still developing but alongside similar views to Gen Y they’re also looked upon as tech-savvy digital natives.

Martha How, a principal at Aon notes that younger people like to receive – and be able to give – feedback on a regular, informal basis. “It’s a great positive as it helps consistent development, rather than waiting for a half-year or full-year formal review.”

Caleb Owusu-Yianoma, a 23-year-old graduate at MarketInvoice, backs this up. “Regular check-ins definitely help me. I have a weekly one-to-one with my manager, who’s very candid about my progress, providing me with consistent feedback. I also like that he always checks I have the resources I need to keep developing,” he says.

This is because a lot of younger employees are also keen for managers to take an interest not just in their current role but also their overall career.

“I want managers to take the time to understand my strengths and direct me into the areas of business where they think I’ll make a good fit,” points out Abdul Hassan, a KPMG 360o apprentice.

Gen X and those that came before them are considered more self-sufficient, resilient and loyal, as many millennials hit the job market at a time when a job for life no longer existed. However, some older workers might need additional support in understanding new systems, as they weren’t brought up with technology in the same way as Gen Y and Z.

Therefore, managers may need to focus on helping them adapt to new systems or technologies in our ever-evolving workplaces.

Age is just a number

However, although it’s important to be aware of how different generations may prefer to be managed, you should not always make assumptions as personality type, culture and gender can all affect workplace expectations just as much as age.

Hinton, for example, says that some of PwC’s most tech-savvy people are Gen X and would be insulted if anyone suggested they needed extra support.

“You can lose engagement quickly if you make assumptions and bracket management style by ages or conversely have a one-size-fits-all approach. We do a lot of staff engagement, from individual meetings to anonymous surveys, to gauge what works best.”

Diverse leadership

Good management improves retention and ensures diverse leadership. “This is because a culture of openness and inclusivity makes people work harder and feel more valued for doing so,” says Sarah Pool, Price Bailey’s senior human resources manager.

This is why successful businesses are engaging with staff of all ages and levels in order to share knowledge and experience.

To improve diversity of middle management, one insurance company developed a shadow board where the only requirement for membership was that you had to be under 32 years of age.

“This shadow board always meets one week before the main board and discusses the same agenda items,” says Mark Freebairn, partner and head of the Financial Management Practice of Odgers Berndtson.

“It’s smart on number of different levels. It helped the younger group to develop boardroom experience and was a great way for the main board to listen to what the upcoming talent were thinking.”

Another organisation has taken to functions swapping responsibilities, with the IT director mentoring sales, finance mentoring marketing etc. This helps staff gain exposure to different areas of the business, better preparing them for future board roles.

MarketInvoice’s leadership engages with staff via a town hall meeting every Friday. Here the co-founders discuss everything from P&L and investors through to facilities issues with the staff, giving them a wider view of the business and the chance to tap into other areas.

Schemes have also been developed where board-level management and students can come together. CEOx1Day sees students spend a day with a CEO, giving them an insight into the work involved in managing a business while allowing the CEO to spend time with the next generation of talent.

Every generation has something unique to bring to the workplace. If you’re willing to listen to their views and provide them with the support they need you can only win points out Anna Purchas, head of people at KPMG.

“The loyalty of the baby boomers, the innovation of the X-ers and the collaborative nature of millennials have all added new and diverse ways of working to the mix. Challenge to the status quo only strengthens a business, if you’re willing to adapt.”