Generational Diversity

By Gina Sena, Consulting Controller

It is sometimes difficult to work with a generationally diverse team, communicate ideas, and work on a team project when there is a difference in work styles. This is especially difficult when you are met with age stereotypes and bias.

For me, I have been in this situation multiple times. I am a millennial and have been in work situations where I am initially perceived as the younger, inexperienced professional. I have also been in situations where I have been challenged to lead teams with generational gaps. My first challenging situation was in my mid-twenties when I was promoted to a property manager position at a retirement community. Not only was I a minority female, but my age was very different to the community I was serving. The owners were in their 60s, tenants in their 70s to 90s, and staff ages ranged from 18-year-olds to 50-year-olds. I had to figure out a way to communicate and work together to meet financial goals and improve our customer service.

At first, this was very overwhelming, but thankfully my background was from a generationally diverse family. I grew up seeing my grandparents’ become centenarians, and our family had many close relatives that covered a wide range of age groups. As the youngest from this very large family, I learned over the years that to work well with others, it is important to understand others by listening carefully, being respectful, finding common ground, and communication is the key in avoiding misunderstandings. These skills helped me meet my goals in that managerial role at the retirement community. I met with each age group, from kitchen staff to the residents’ association, listened carefully to their concerns, always treated everyone with respect, and communicated what our goals were and what we could or could not do. Months later, I was not only managing the property effectively, but also added more social events, engaged a new on-site home health agency, and maintained employee retention. This was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and the goals were achieved by a generationally diverse team!

From then on, my career in accounting started and I continued to see generational diversity grow in the workplace. Currently, there are five generations working together for the very first time in the US workforce.

Traditionalists (1928 – 1945)

Some characteristics of this generation include:

  • Practical
  • Dedicated
  • Hardworking
  • Respect for authority

Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964)

Some characteristics of this generation include:

  • Optimistic
  • Workaholic
  • Team players
  • Action oriented

Gen X (1965 – 1980)

Some characteristics of this generation include:

  • Great workers
  • Work/life balance
  • Independent
  • Self-reliant

Millennials (1981 – 1996)

Some characteristics of this generation include:

  • Efficient
  • Adaptable
  • Fearless
  • Ambitious
  • Enthusiastic

Gen Z (1997 – 2012)

Some characteristics of this generation include:

  • Entrepreneurial
  • Ambitious
  • Multitaskers
  • Resourceful

This is a golden opportunity to benefit from each other’s perspectives, knowledge, and networks. To achieve effective team collaboration, it is very important to avoid assumptions and stereotypes. Instead, take the time to understand each generation that is present in your team.

A generation refers to all the people born and living at about the same time. Each generation’s characteristics are shaped by the challenges and successes that were faced during the time lived. Not everyone that falls within a specific generation category shares those specific characteristics, and a generation’s characteristics can vary globally and culturally. By taking the time to understand your team members’ unique generations, you’ll be able to identify their strengths, fears, and skills that can be paired with a team member from another generation with complementary skills and find the effective methods of communication for your team.

Another important element of a collaborative multi-generational team is to ensure representation from different generations are present in the team. Invite employees from different generations to collaborate and problem solve. Utilize different formats of communication to reach all generations. Provide clear direction for the team goals and larger purpose, emphasize the common ground, and provide regular, specific feedback. To make sure all voices are included, keep track of participation during meetings and encourage engagement by asking a team member for their point of view. Identify training needs and facilitate mentoring opportunities.

Lastly, acknowledge meaningful contributions and good work from your team. Provide detailed acknowledgements that include 1) thank you, 2) because, and 3) why. This approach provides a clear understanding, appreciation, and a sense of belonging to the team’s mission.

By taking the time to connect and understand team members’ generations, employers can build effective collaborative multi-generational teams that will drive innovation, build trust, and promote a cross-generational mutual learning culture.