We can’t all be twenty-one again.
So, when you’re managing a diverse workplace, how can you inspire, unite and engage all of your employees – regardless of age?
When it comes to your employees, they’ll no doubt be an interesting bunch. It’s likely they’ll be from all walks of life with very different wants and needs. So, how can you make sure you’re winning hearts and minds in a multi-generational workplace?
Sodexo’s informative eBook, ‘The Generation Game’ centres on ways businesses can better manage the employee experience to keep everybody happy within the workplace.
Whether it’s coming up with innovative ways of recognising success and improving performance or addressing the employee benefits package as a whole, it’s clear that one size certainly doesn’t fit all.
So, what are the key challenges in today’s modern workplace and what can you do to bridge the gap between Baby Boomers, Generation Z and everyone in between?
Here are ten ways to bring the employee experience alive across all of the generations…
1. FOCUS ON THE INDIVIDUAL
Today’s workplaces are made up of five different generations – with the big three being ‘Baby Boomers’, ‘Generation X’ and ‘Millennials’.
As Sodexo’s research states, the single biggest challenge facing multi-generational organisations over the next five years is looking beyond age and learning how to engage every individual based on their personal needs, abilities, ambitions and interests.
Iain Thomson, Director of Incentive & Recognition, Sodexo, says, “We need to stop categorising people and start encouraging individuality. You wouldn't expect it when you meet people in a non-professional environment, so why should it be acceptable in the workplace?”
It’s sound advice and well backed up by recruitment professionals.
Alex Fleming, President of General Staffing at Adecco Group UK and Ireland, said in an article about millennial attitudes to employment, that stereotyping must be avoided at all costs.
She says, “as the number of generations in the workforce rises, businesses must steer away from any stereotypical views of generations and instead provide benefits and working practices that are tailored to individual needs.”
We might be the same workforce, but our needs and requirements may be very different. If organisations want to drive business success stories, they’d do well to keep it personal.
2. GET TO KNOW YOUR EMPLOYEES
We’re seeing a shift in management. It seems that older workers are increasingly being managed by younger staff. As the retirement age increases and older employees stay in the workforce for longer, it’s going to happen.
This can either be a brilliant thing or it can backfire – it really depends on the individuals concerned. Your job is to stay on top of the fallout and head off any problems before they arise – and that’s where good communication is critical.
If you’re in touch with your employees, you can recognise early doors whether your baby boomers feel overlooked for promotion or whether they have a lack of respect towards a younger employee whose credentials may be in doubt. You’ll also know whether your millennial managers feel insecure and unsupported.
By getting in front of staff and having regular feedback sessions, you can begin to understand the individual concerns around management.
3. CHANGE UP THE SPACE
A positive working environment is one that brings people together rather than dividing them, boosting productivity and helping to achieve business success stories.
If you can cross the generations by getting them to work collectively as a team where possible, you’ll foster positive relationships and understanding between the generations.
Depending on your company culture, you may even have to bring in a ‘no email for an afternoon’ policy to do it – getting people together can often be easier said than done.
So, now’s the time to bring in break out areas and open spaces where co-workers can sit and process ideas together. You might have to knock down walls to do it, but no mountain is too big as they say!
4. ENCOURAGE COLLABORATION
Get people talking by establishing regular team meetings where people feel supported to share their views without being shouted down. Encourage managers to pull different people onto projects to diversify thinking around problems and solutions.
Organise social events or themed days where staff can get involved in a collective office initiative. You don’t have to run to Paris and back, but bake off days or similar staff events can be a great place to start.
If you have lots of remote workers, how about getting with the social intranet programme and looking into new ways of communicating via Slack and so forth.
When people begin to work more closely together, they start to establish greater understanding of each other. And that can bring big benefits to the business.
5. PLAY TO STRENGTHS
Managers are more likely to connect with employees by playing to their strengths. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that someone with limited experience in, say, IT, isn’t going to be the person to fix a particular technology problem. It’s just going to make everyone feel frustrated and even foolish.
This is an obvious example of course, but if you equip your managers with the skills to spot employee strengths and play to them, you’ll build a more inclusive workplace that suits everyone.
As Sodexo’s research says, “this is where respect and trust in senior management comes from – a transparent, inclusive culture and the genuine belief that the employer has each and every person’s best interests at heart when allocating tasks and job roles.”
Get management up to speed on the possible generational differences and make sure they’re mindful of these. Focus on good leadership by providing training that offers the techniques they need to turn good managers into great ones.
Create a workplace culture where you play to everyone’s strengths and you’ll directly improve the employee experience.
6. EMBRACE TECHNOLOGY
We think it’s a little unfair to say that all millennials want to communicate via social media platforms or apps, particularly as the fastest growing groups in these realms are over fifty. But it’s true to say they’re used to communicating in real-time and demand answers to questions far quicker than, say, your average Baby Boomer might.
Kantar Media’s research into the over 50s demographic labels this generation the ‘young at hearts’, fully engaged with digital platforms and new trends. Anne Benoist, Group Director at Kantar Media says, “our data shows the attitudes and behaviours of many over 50s clearly defies the stereotypes often associated with their age group.”
So far, so contrary.
Yet, as an employer, it’s best to recognise that certain employees will be used to communicating in certain ways – and attitudes towards technology will affect this.
Look at your individual workplace and think, how can you tailor your communication appropriately and consider new ways to drive innovation within your business? For example, Baby Boomers and Gen X want face to face meetings and recognition for a job well done but millennials may shy away from that.
One thing’s for sure, all of the generations are leaning towards working flexibly – and technology can help businesses implement a viable flexible working policy with great results.
7. THINK INNOVATIVELY
When it comes to offering broad appeal, it’s always good to start back with basics. Throw away old routines and embrace new trends and innovations to find people engagement that really resonates.
We’ve heard that Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder of room sharing website Airbnb wanted to attract more millennials into his business. He did it by shouting about the company values in order to appeal to this purpose-driven segment of society.
He talks about all-company meetings where staff are flown into San Francisco for three days, plus fortnightly meetings that are live streamed to join all of the company’s offices up. All of this people engagement allows AirBnB to keep company values front of mind.
All very well for millennials of course, but actually, this kind of forward-thinking attitude to workplace practises has cross-generational appeal as it boosts collaboration and helps working relationships to thrive.
8. PEER TO PEER LEARNING
Call it what you like, mentoring, coaching or peer-to-peer learning – but the multi-generations have a lot to offer each other.
We wouldn’t like to speculate, but we will: if an older worker is struggling with social media for example, younger generations can help them polish their skills in this area. Likewise, more mature workers can assist with leadership and decision making should millennial managers require a little mentoring and guidance.
Sodexo’s study says, “one innovative example that’s been proven to increase employee engagement, bridge gaps and build relationships is peer-to-peer training.”
If you can unlock the skills that certain employees possess which others don’t, you can bridge the generational gap whilst firmly focusing on improving performance and providing training opportunities.
“Studies show that colleagues learn more from each other than they do from formal training”, says Jeanne Meister, Partner at Future Workplace and co-author of The 2020 Workplace. “Which is why it’s so important to establish a culture of coaching across age groups”.
9. SAY THANK YOU TO EVERYONE
There’s nothing worse than a culture where public employee recognition is only aimed at one demographic. If your older workers feel that younger ones are being recognised and praised more than they are, it will be felt around the office.
With a well thought out employee recognition platform, you can ensure everyone gets the thanks and praise they deserve, regardless of age and stage. In fact, it seems that peer-to-peer recognition programmes are the way to go when it comes to driving people engagement so that everyone gets to bask in glory.
Iain Thomson, Director of Incentives and Recognition at Sodexo, says, “peer-to-peer recognition programmes are really powerful. They encourage employees from all walks of life to show appreciation for one another, bring a new sense of positivity to the workplace, and ensure even the smallest of achievements reach the limelight.”
10. TAILOR YOUR REWARDS AND INCENTIVES
According to Sodexo’s ‘Move, Mould, Motivate: An Essential Guide to Employee Engagement’ study, just 10% of employees say the incentives and rewards offered to them are 'very relevant' to their lifestyle and personal interests.
Not the best news HR departments ever had.
Employee benefits is one area that has mass appeal, yet the package needs to play to the individual to have impact. HR managers that collect employee data and review feedback to evolve their offering will create employee benefits with real value.
Sodexo’s research shows that younger workers value training and opportunities more highly than other generations – a no brainer when you consider that pay is often linked to promotions.
The more senior your professional is, the more likely that pension pots come into play – a cycle to work scheme may be good for some, but for the long distance commuter, it might have little relevance. Know your audience and make sure you respond accordingly.
So, there you have it.
It seems the age long conundrum of how to keep everyone happy is to keep it personal. Put the individual front of mind and you’ll create people engagement that really resonates, regardless of age or life stage.