Chances are good that you manage a multigenerational workforce of workers and interns who range from their late teens to mid-60s — covering Baby Boomers, Generation X, Gen Y (often called millennials) and Gen Z. And that’s a good thing. A team comprising a mashup of age groups provides your company with a broad range of skills and perspectives.
Most of the time, everyone gets along just fine. In a recent Robert Half survey of American workers, 89% of respondents said they find it very easy or somewhat easy to work with people from other generations.
Even so, there are certain factors that can cause friction when disparate age groups come together. For starters, each cohort tends to have different work styles, communication preferences, career expectations and comfort levels with technology. The savvy manager understands this dynamic and makes the most of it.
Of course, people from each generation don’t fit neatly into a box of adjectives. Our research on generations — bolstered by many other studies — points to general tendencies and attitudes across much of the globe, but it’s important to adjust accordingly for different individuals.
Generational similarities and differences
• Baby Boomers are used to a more traditional work model, with hierarchical leadership and lecture-based training. They tend to have a cautious approach to their career, such as a one-job-for-life mentality.
• Gen Xers favor managers who act more like coaches and give them regular feedback. They respond to a command-and-control style of communication and see change as an opportunity for growth.
• Millennials appreciate collaborative communication and experienced bosses who are willing to work with them. They are used to change and have a positive attitude towards it. Staying in one job for years can seem like a foreign concept to this group.
• Gen Zers desire frequent feedback from managers and prefer tech-based learning. They expect change and adapt well to new situations. This generation anticipates needing to work harder than their Gen X parents to get ahead, but they also expect to move up the career ladder quickly.
These various outlooks help enrich an accounting department. To make the most of your diverse team, here are five suggestions for breaking down generational silos and building a culture of happiness and collaboration.
1. Lead from the top. The media likes to play up how millennials are killing certain traditions, foods, drinks and other things previous generations hold dear. On the other end of the spectrum, some younger people tend to poke fun at how their elders don’t understand new technologies. Don’t let these stereotypes take hold within your team. Rather, train employees to see the positives in generational differences.
2. Offer social and team-building activities. Group events help workers get to know each other better and view colleagues as unique people rather than typical members of their generation. This is just as vital for supervisors: Being aware of individuals’ strengths and personality types helps you tailor your management style to each employee.
3. Mix it up. Members of one generation naturally gravitate towards each other, which means you should be intentional about creating age-diverse working groups. Doing so helps facilitate a valuable exchange of knowledge and encourages employees to learn from and respect each other.
4. Foster mentoring. Boomers and Gen Xers have much to teach millennials and Gen Zers, so encourage senior employees to coach entry- and mid-level workers in areas like career development, interpersonal skills and professional networking. Not only do such relationships help break down generational silos, they also serve as an important part of your succession plan.
5. Promote reverse mentoring. Many younger workers arrive at their job with fresh perspectives, novel ideas and an incredible handle on the new technologies that are vital to ensuring a competitive edge. Let your 20- and 30-somethings share their understanding of digital disruptions and the future of work with older employees.
Multigenerational teams and the new labor model
With the rise in telecommuting, interim staffing and the gig economy, the way accounting professionals do their job is changing. And fuelling this evolution, in part, are the preferences of the latest generation of workers. A well-integrated department — one with diverse skills, experiences and backgrounds — can help your company embrace and adapt to the new labor model that makes the most of on-demand professionals and talent without borders.
So celebrate generational differences, as they are how workers and businesses grow and improve. To make the most of each cohort’s wisdom, help your team find that common ground.
Travis Laird is the Arizona regional vice president for Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm. Travis oversees the Accountemps, OfficeTeam and Robert Half Management Resources and Robert Half Finance & Accounting divisions in Phoenix and Tucson. He has more than 10 years of staffing industry experience and is also a member of Greater Phoenix Economic Council and The Tucson Regional Economic Development Council. To learn more, visit www.roberthalf.com/az-phoenix.