Guest column: Managing a workforce across generations

February 08, 2018

January 22/29, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 6

By Matt Beaudreau

 

Many businesses today—including the flooring industry—have as many as five generations working together. That’s a phenomenon unprecedented in the history of the U.S. workforce. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge as businesses look for ways to improve communication and work processes across generational lines.

The first thing an owner needs to do is acknowledge there are fundamental differences in the way people learn, work and interact—something we think about in our heads but don’t always verbalize. Every generation has factors, whether it’s social, political, economic, etc., that shape or define who they are. It’s important to remember that generations don’t always fit into a box just because you were born into a certain age bracket. But there are clues and insights into behaviors we can glean from our experience in working with different generations.

Managing a multi-generation workforce begins with a paradigm shift. Owners who come from an older generation often feel their way of doing things is the “right way” and that all others are off base. That’s no longer acceptable. Managers have to understand that people see the world through different lenses. Instead of looking at those perceived differences as being a hinderance, I would suggest that owners shift their thinking to acknowledge all the strengths they have on their team. Once you embrace that mindset, you can begin to have open dialogues within your ranks and among your employees.

Second, business owners need to understand that different people respond differently when it comes to criticism, praise and so forth. Following my presentations to various groups I often get the questions: “What’s the best way for business owners to manage different age groups? Or is a certain amount of friction good for a multi-generational workforce?”

When we use the term friction, we automatically assume it means there’s going to be some problem. Or you can look at these situations as being beneficial, i.e., we’re a collection of individuals working toward the same goal. The key is honoring the individuality of the employee. It’s no longer acceptable to say, “Look, this is how we do it here; you’re essentially all robots, etc.” It’s about managing everyone differently but equally, but at the same time realizing that equal does not mean the same. For example, for some people to have a good work environment they need constant feedback and reassurance, and they need someone to check on them on a daily basis.

On the other side of the spectrum, you have people who basically want to be left alone. This is the group that says, “If you’re checking on me too frequently then I’m doing something wrong.” That’s how the older generation feels. But if you’re part of the younger generation, you feel you’re doing something wrong if the boss is not talking to you frequently.

But there’s also unhealthy conflict. In my business, I tell my people if you can’t get along with others on the staff then you have to go. Harmony in an organization only occurs when people are allowed to be themselves, when they’re working together toward the same goals and are allowed to have open communications about what’s working vs. what’s not working.

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