The Ledger No. 62: Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce

August 10, 2022 Theresa Rex

Asian woman manager mentoring a Black gen z employee in multigenerational team

Welcome to The Ledger where we sum up the latest finance and accounting news and trends for you. In this week's entry, we're exploring how a multigenerational accounting team can be a powerful and effective asset — if you know how to manage across generation gaps. We'll look at how to shed misconceptions and myths about the five working generations, how to channel the unique strengths of employees at any age, managing a multigenerational team, and how to bring cross-generational management strategies into the remote workplace.

The Weekly Ledger managing a multigenerational team

Effective Managers of Multigenerational Teams Must Let Go of Stereotypes

When it comes to generational conflict, the notorious gaps that serve as the trenches in the so-called "generation wars" tend to be discussed more as inevitabilities as opposed to what they actually are — generalizations. Generational labels are handy for sorting huge groups of the workforce into approximate age groups and work well if what you need is a shorthand for those groups' shared experiences and behavioral responses. For instance: "Gen X" is just easier to say than "Workers born between 1965 and 1980 who are likely to be in mid- to senior-level roles."

What generational labels are terrible for is making hard and fast assumptions that slap a pithy — and frequently negative — label on millions of people whose life experiences, education levels, values and abilities will have only their diversity in common. Unfortunately, this is also how generational labels are used most. Allowing overhyped trends in behavior to become managerial gospel is a recipe for dysfunctional teams at best and at worst, age discrimination. Step one, therefore, when it comes to managing a multigenerational team is to take a close look at your assumptions about each generation and then commit to letting them go. Do any of these stereotypes sound familiar?

  • Traditionalists (born 1925-45): Also known as the silent or greatest generation, there were three million traditionalists in the labor force as of 2017. Traditionalists have been called "withdrawn", "stodgy", "unimaginative", "averse to change" and "unwilling to learn new things".

  • Baby Boomers (born 1925-1964): Though they're nearing retirement, boomers are the largest generation and 41 million still clock into work every day, where these "selfish" and "arrogant" employees will be perceived as looking down their nose at younger teammates.

  • Generation X (born 1965-1980): As the "sandwich" generation, Gen Xers feel forgotten, even though there are almost as many Gen X workers as millennials (53 million). Maybe that's why they're so "cynical" and "disaffected" and insist that their way of doing things is the only way.

  • Millennials (born 1981-2000): 56 million millennials head to work every day, where these "lazy", "hypersensitive" and "entitled" employees will waste time obsessing over social media.

  • Gen Z (born 2001-2020): Gen Z is just beginning to enter the workforce (there were 9 million back in 2017) bringing their lack of interpersonal skills and microscopic attention spans with them.

Sounds ridiculous when we put it that way, doesn't it? Head over to medium.com for more multigenerational myth-busting and more tips on managing your team.

Tips for Managing Cross-generational Conflict in the Multigenerational Workplace

One great reason to coach employees on letting go of stereotypes (and let go of them yourself!) in the first place is that they'll end up reinforcing that amount to a really nasty feedback loop. Two cognitive biases that play a big role in generational miscommunication —premature cognitive commitments and fundamental attribution errors — are common culprits for age-related conflicts at work, even when age has nothing to do with it. The former is when we decide that someone behaves according to our preconceived notion about them as, say, a member of Gen Z as opposed to as an individual. The latter is the assumption that that same person's behavior is an extension of their personality instead of their circumstances.

Keeping this kind of erroneous sensemaking from turning your workplace into a battlefield will require you to:

  • Stay curious. Don't assume you know why someone has done something, and if you have to guess, look for motivations that aren't age-related.

  • Reframe "right vs. wrong". When we feel strongly about something, we risk falling into the trap of moralizing it, when two points of view can both be right.

  • Join forces. You may never know why someone does something, so focus on how you can collaborate to meet objectives instead of arguing over which way is correct.

  • Find common threads. It's very hard to dismiss someone you empathize with, so when you look for — and encourage your team to look for – commonalities, empathy and less conflict tend to follow.

Discover more ways our brains can trick us into prejudgment and learn how to resist the urge with the full article on HBR.org.

Make the Most of Each Generation's Strengths & Skills in a Multigenerational Team

For the first time in history, the modern workforce is five generations strong. That's unprecedented, and so are the opportunities for innovation, productivity and collaboration that comes along with it. Devoting endless hours to flattening generational differences won't make anyone more comfortable, they just make everyone a little less uncomfortable.

That's a lot of effort some leaders will end up dumping into leaving the real prize on the table: a team with skillsets that complement one another's plus higher employee retention rates, job satisfaction and organizational performance.

The leadership development experts and behavioral scientists that coauthored Gentelligence: The Revolutionary Approach to Leading an Intergenerational Workforce suggest that leaders follow a framework that employs four core practices to do just that:

  • Identify your assumptions: Have your team conduct an audit of your team's age-based biases so you know what you need to overcome.

  • Adjust your lens: Engage in a "Describe-Interpret-Evaluate" Exercise to reframe those assumptions and reassign intent.

  • Take advantage of differences: One major advantage of age-diverse teams are that they bring almost an entire century's worth of perspectives, skills and experiences to the problem-solving table.

  • Embrace mutual learning: To get the full benefit of what every generation has to offer, opt for mutual mentoring on your team instead of traditional mentor-mentee relationships.

Read the entire article on HBR.com for more tips on managing a multigenerational team, and start thinking of intergenerational teams as powerful assets in the competitive landscape — because that's what they are when they're managed effectively.

Create a Remote Work Experience That Works for 5 Generations

How you feel about the benefits and drawbacks of working remotely is probably at least in part informed by your relationship with technology and the same is true for your team. Some of them entered the workforce before "world wide web" was nothing more than an alliterative word salad, and some of them will have entered it in the middle of a global shift to remote work that was only possible thanks to its ubiquity.

  • Create a feedback loop: even if you and your team are seasoned WFH veterans, don't stop treating it like the transition it is. Take regular temperature checks with your whole team and in one-on-ones to identify challenges your team might still be having or are just starting to try to tackle.

  • Put expectations in writing: Expectations around core hours, whether cameras are on or off during team meetings and how check-ins or sign offs will be conducted should be clear and readily available in writing, even if it's just a pinned file in the group chat. Collaborate with your team to define and adjust them.

  • Provide tech training: Just because your team has been using a communication or collaboration tool for two years or more doesn't mean that everyone feels empowered to use it effectively and comfortably. Even the ones that do can benefit from training that ensures they make the most of all its features.

  • Put in some facetime: Meeting in-person is important, even if you're not coming into the office regularly on a hybrid schedule. Scheduling interaction that doesn't require an internet connection and a screen will keep your team connected and keeps things a little more human.

When leaders create a cultural scaffolding that supports intergenerational collaboration, employees at any age or stage of their career can bring what they have to offer to the table from wherever they are. For an in-depth look at how to build one for your team, read the full article at forbes.com.

In the war for accounting talent, leaders who can recognize and amplify the skills of every worker — whether they're a CPA with decades of experience or a newly minted accounting grad — will have the competitive edge. Learn more about how Personiv can help your team thrive and stay tuned for future resources on managing a multigenerational team.

Previous Article
The Weekly Ledger No. 63: Providing Education Benefits to Employees
The Weekly Ledger No. 63: Providing Education Benefits to Employees

We're diving into one of the most overlooked perks you can offer your team: reimbursing them for the educat...

Next Article
The Ledger No. 61: Identifying Potential Leaders on Your Team
The Ledger No. 61: Identifying Potential Leaders on Your Team

On this week’s entry, we’re exploring how to identify and nurture the potential leaders on your team – futu...

×

Get the Monthly Ledger sent straight to your inbox.

First Name
Last Name
Thank you for subscribing!
Error - something went wrong!