HR Forum

Mediate for a successful multi-generation workplace

There is a revolution going on at work. As the final members of one generation of employees leave, the next generation is thinking about following them but are realising their plans for early retirement might not work out.

At the same time, another generation is arriving on the scene with a mission to transform the workplace and they are impatient. Caught in the middle is a generation who has been patiently waiting their turn to shine only to find that the newcomers have other ideas.

Welcome to a workplace with multiple generations. Builders, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Gen Y are what we are calling them. I’m sure you will recognise these terms and will have seen the effect these different generations are having on the workplace.

As a manager, your next challenge is to find a way to get these four diverse groups working together. As an employee, you also need to enhance your generational communication skills or you may well restrict your employment prospects.

There is much potential in a multi-generation workplace, but first you need to help them work together There is much potential in a multi-generation workplace, but first you need to help them work together

If you have read anything on the topic of generations in the workplace you may have noticed authors who use constant references to “generation gaps” and “conflict management strategies”.

This is what I refer to as the “generational gladiator” attitude — someone who thinks that the workplace is a battleground and is determined that his generation will win the war!

While each generation has its own unique ideas on how work should be which can create issues, I believe the adversarial approach is wrong. Instead of focusing on the downside, I believe we need to start focusing on how we can harness the power of our differences to create more successful organisations.

I prefer to take the “generational mediator” approach, which aims to bridge the gap between the generations and find ways to bring them together.

So what are the key differences between a gladiator and a mediator approach to managing the generations? While many people are focusing on the rise of Gen Y in the workplace, there are really two ends to the generational issue. It is just as important to consider the needs of mature people at work (that is, the Builders and the Baby Boomers) while not forgetting that poor generation stuck in the middle, Generation X!

I believe that the result of this change of attitude will be a new formula for success in business: Builders + Baby Boomers + Generation X + Gen Y = Success.

Each generation brings with it a range of strengths that, if harnessed properly, can create a highly engaged workforce that is able to respond to customer demands.

With Builders you get people that are hard working, reliable and loyal; Baby Boomers bring their optimism, drive and team player attitude; Generation X are flexible, practical and solutions-focused; and Gen Y add innovation, confidence and enthusiasm to the mix.

If you have studied personality styles, you will know that all the models encourage organisations to have people with a range of styles rather than clones of each other because of the different points of view they can bring. The same is true with the generations.

Mature workers bring with them years of experience that can be invaluable. Younger workers bring with them new ways of thinking. These are both qualities that all organisations can benefit from. If you talk to your staff you’ll find that many of them, young and older, get a lot out of working with people from another generation.

So how would you rate yourself on the gladiator versus mediator continuum? Do you tend to dismiss the ideas, attitudes and behaviours of other generations because they don’t conform to your view of the workplace or are you able to embrace their differences and use them to help you create a more productive work environment?

It may be that you say all the right things in meetings and conversations but deep down you still have your doubts. I challenge you to analyse your own behaviour to see where you can find ways to become more of a generational mediator.

Remember, the generational issue is not just a fad that is going to fade away in the near future. This issue is here to stay. By the time the last of the Builders are completely gone from the workplace, we will be seeing the emergence of Gen Z and then the Alpha Generation, so the basic skills of managing a multi-generational workforce will be required for some time into the future. - Singapore Straits Times/Asia News Network

·Article by Karen Schmidt, an award-winning speaker, workshop leader and facilitator with Training Edge International. Article extracted from the Classifieds section, The Star