Today’s business landscape calls for organizational leaders to manage unprecedented circumstances, such as working with a multiple-generation workforce. Any given organization might now employ members of five distinct generations, comprised of The Silent Generation, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, and Generation Z. Each generation understandably comes with its own unique frame of reference and set of values based on factors such as world events, cultural norms, and economic conditions that existed when they were born and were growing up. While this range of generations, specific age groups, personalities, and frames of reference might seem daunting as you think about potential clashes over approaches to everything from daily tasks and approaches to productivity to misunderstandings and agreements, keep in mind that you have the benefit of creating and nurturing a substantially diverse workplace.
As a small business owner or manager, you have a remarkable pool of talent available to provide unique perspectives to your organization with a multigenerational workplace. The key to successful leadership when working with multiple generations is to engage each one for the success of your business. Here are five tips to successfully manage generational diversity in the workplace.
1. Find a universal communication strategy
Each generation has its own way of thinking, talking, and connecting that small business owners and HR teams need to identify. When an HR or communication leader is communicating with employees through internal memos, social media posts, or blog entries, it is important to identify their collective audience, composed of these varied generations.
It is crucial to find a way to convey each message to all employees through a universal tone and content that resonates with members of each generation, to ensure that they understand, receive, and engage with it. While it isn’t necessary to point out each generation during each message, it is vital to keep each one in mind and provide examples and touchstones that resonate universally.
If there are opportunities to create individual campaigns that touch on each generation’s needs and desires, that’s a great bonus, but it may or may not be feasible for every message from your small business. The most important takeaway is to ensure that no generation is left out of the conversation and that all information is accessible to everyone.
2. Work on your employee value proposition for multiple generations
Defining an employee value proposition (EVP) helps define the core values of your organization. An EVP touches on the reasons employees choose to work for your organization. It also forms what motivates them to work hard and connect with team members.
Similar to using generationally specific language when possible, it’s important to work to ensure your organization’s EVP appeals to the full spectrum of generations in your specific workplace. Offer a work environment that has something for everyone, including a variety of compensations and perks that appeal to everyone, such as the following:
- Health and wellness policies and programs, such as paid time off (PTO) and work/life balance initiatives, are attractive to every generation.
- Professional development offers employees of all generations opportunities for personal and professional growth and for career advancement.
- Financial services and investment programs are important, such as those that help employees save for their future needs, such as retirement.
3. Nurture a hiring strategy and overall culture that encourages multiple generation diversity
Like other diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs, strive to diversify the age range of your workforce. Let everyone know you encourage and welcome the broad range of ideas and approaches that accompany such an age range from the hiring and onboarding phases forward throughout each employee’s tenure.
Starting with the hiring process, use the following strategies to let candidates know you welcome generational diversity:
- Source candidates through various channels, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and job fairs for working professionals as well as those targeted at college students.
- Find neutral language that appeals to a broad range of job candidates, focusing on what you offer in terms of opportunities for growth and benefits. Provide images and graphics that show that you welcome diverse age groups.
- Work to eliminate any potential human biases based on the inference of demographic information. If possible, invest in a software program that uses AI to screen and filter specific information that might otherwise cause generational biases.
4. Create common purposes that speak to everyone
While you encourage a common purpose in the workplace on a professional level, based on productivity and meeting goals, it is also important to find and contribute in social contexts, focusing on charity and community outreach. Encouraging others can help diverse ranges of people bond. Work together for a common cause, such as organizing a 5K race for a favorite charity or fundraising to buy a car, truck, or SUV to help someone in need.
You might form a committee with representation from every generation to find ways to work together to make the world a better place, using their passion and your organization’s resources.
5. Gather feedback from each generation
You don’t want to set up a series of generational diversity campaigns and assume they are working. However, not everyone feels comfortable giving opinions freely and publicly. Consider a few different methods of collecting this vital feedback that ensure employees’ comfort and privacy, such as the following:
- Anonymous surveys
- Performance reviews and appraisals
- One-on-one interviews
The information you collect can help you identify where you are doing things well and what needs additional work to allow you to manage a multigenerational workforce more effectively.
It really is an incredible time for small businesses like yours to work with a broad range of generational talent. While there are challenges, the immense benefits you stand to gain are worth implementing these strategies and others you come across and develop to help everyone feel included and valued.
Jeremy Silverstein is Vice President of Operations and Vehicle Dispatching at Goodwill Car Donations. Goodwill Car Donations is a national organization that accepts vehicle donations. It is committed to providing disadvantaged individuals with job training, employment services and critical community-building support.