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Four generations in one office: Can you handle it?

For almost the first time ever, it’s now quite possible to have a workplace with four generations co-existing – happily or otherwise. Veterans (sometimes known as traditionalists and defined as those born between 1922 and 1944), may easily be working alongside Baby Boomers (1945-1964), Gen Xs(1965-1979) and Gen Ys (1980-2000). Another couple of years and the first Post-millennials will join the fray.

But these different employees can have utterly different mind-sets, motivations, aspirations and leadership styles, and bringing them together can lead to strife if it isn’t handled properly. Leadership New Zealand chief executive Sina Wendt-Moore has eight tips for inter-generational harmony at work.

1. Know your demographics. Each generation has different cultural backgrounds goals, life influences and behaviours. Defining people according to their generalised demographics is sometimes unhelpful, but can sometimes be useful; understanding what might motivate your workmates (or employees) is sometimes the first step to acceptance. At the same time, don’t assume conflict at work is inter-generational.

2. But don’t pigeonhole people because of their age. Some 65-year olds are technology experts, and some 25 year olds have much to teach their older colleagues.

3.  Know their motivators. If you are the boss, it’s much easier to get the best out of your workforce if you understand what motivates them. Ditto with colleagues and a happy work environment. But look at individual situations too. Gen X managers, for example, may have young kids and be less flexible in terms of time and location.

4. Understand what makes others tick: Don’t assume that what works for you in terms of recognition for good work, is the same for everyone else

5. Start bringing younger leaders through earlier. Once upon a time, young people were expected to wait until their elders relinquished the leadership mantle before taking over. Not any more. One of the reasons some Gen Y staff are choosing to create their own jobs, rather than work in traditional workplaces, is that they are looking for  leadership. Start bringing your Gen Y staff into leadership positions early.

6. Create networks and mentoring opportunities. A productive inter-generational workplace requires everyone to participate. Older staff need to understand that what leadership looks like to them isn’t necessarily what it looks like to a younger person. And younger staffers need to seek out opportunities to connect and engage with older leaders, who can support them in their goals. If you are the boss, promote learning and development by “jumping the generations” to ensure mentors and mentees are not in direct competition. This encourages “bi-directional” coaching.

7. Actively build multi-generational work groups. Be inclusive of perspectives and points of view and create an atmosphere where everyone feels they have the opportunity to contribute, lead and speak.

8. Use humour to bridge gaps. When all else fails, laugh.

This article was adapted from Sina Wendt-Moore’s presentation at a Frog Recruitment leadership breakfast in Auckland

Chief editor at Idealog, Nikki's a veteran in the journalism industry. A former lecturer at AUT University, she was the chief reporter at NZ weekly business publication The Independent and was deputy editor of Canadian publication Unlimited magazine.

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