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Tips for Leading a Multigenerational Workforce

generations of employees

A Baby Boomer taking orders from a manager half their age. A Gen Xer building camaraderie with team members whose on-the-job experience amounts to no more than a summer internship. A Traditionalist working alongside coworkers young enough to be their grandkids.

These types of situations are becoming more common as Hawaii’s workforce grows more generationally diverse. For the first time ever, five generations of employees are all working under one roof.

This generational shift is transforming workplace dynamics and leaving managers unsure of how to lead a group of employees who are, in some cases, nearly five decades apart in age. At the same time, it presents employers with an unprecedented opportunity to harness new levels of innovation and collaboration.

Let’s take a look at what’s contributing to Hawaii’s multigenerational workforce and uncover tips on how to ensure all generations can flourish at work.

Generations at Work are Changing

Percent Distribution of Labor Force by Age Group, Hawaii vs US

Percent Distribution of the Labor Force by Age Group, Hawaii vs. U.S., 2007 and 2017

Source: Hawaii Labor Market Dynamics 2017, State of Hawaii Department of Labor & Industrial Relations (PDF)

The ebb and flow of generations at work usually follows that one generation moves into the workforce just as another is retiring out. We’ve welcomed Millennials and now the newest cohort, Generation Z, is slowly making their way from college to career.

But something even more groundbreaking is happening: older employees are working longer than any other generation before them.

Whether out of necessity or desire, older employees are putting off retirement and staying in the labor force at the highest annual rate for people their age in more than half a century. Almost a third of Baby Boomers ages 65 to 72 were working or looking for work in 2018, surpassing the labor force participation of the Silent Generation (21%) and the Greatest Generation (19%) when they were the same age, according to a Pew Research Center study.

This trend can also be seen here locally. Not only do workers aged 55 and older make up the largest distribution of Hawaii’s workforce, they were also the only age group to see a significant increase in roughly the last ten years.


Tips for Managing a Multigenerational Workforce

Multigenerational Workforce

The standard “this is how we’ve always done it” approach won’t work when you’re dealing with a multigenerational group of employees. Employers must figure out how to create advancement opportunities for their younger workers (or risk losing them) while still engaging their older employees whose skills they desperately need in Hawaii’s tight talent pool.

1. Leave generational stereotypes at the door

The entitled Millennial who needs constant praise, the cranky Boomer who hates change, and the Gen Xer who well, hates everyone and everything. Generational stereotypes, while convenient and at times convincing, create just as many workplace problems as they solve. A piece of advice: ditch them now.

With most generational cohorts spanning about 20 years, it’s impractical (and a waste of time) to assume that every person born within a two decade time period will act, behave, and value the same things. In short, all employees want to be appreciated, to be supported, and to do work that matters.

2. Focus on career desires and life stages instead

What employees want out of work is usually a reflection of their life stage and/or career desires, not their generation. A fresh out-of-college newbie looking to prove themselves may value career advancement while a veteran employee close to retirement might care more about a robust 401(k) plan. And regardless if she’s a 24 year old Millennial or 44 year old Gen Xer—that new mom on your team could probably benefit from a flexible schedule.

Focusing on what your employees need and expect out of you as their employer—at this particular time in their life—will help you craft better benefit offerings to satisfy and retain them in the long run.

3. Look into reverse mentoring

Reverse mentoring flips the traditional mentorship hierarchy by having senior executives paired with and mentored by junior employees. Most often, the goal is to give the mentee a one-on-one understanding of a particular issue, such as new technology, social media, or even diversity issues.

Albeit still a bit radical for most Hawaii companies, the strategic benefit of reverse mentoring should not be overlooked. Younger employees, eager to make an immediate impact in their careers, are empowered by the role reversal which can have payoffs for retention. At the same time, older executives get insights on what younger employees value which is crucial for recruiting and keeping the talent pipeline pumping. Reverse mentoring can help to keep unconscious biases in check too.

4. Invest in upskilling your employees

With rapid advancements in technology and an aging workforce, the need to invest in the professional development of your team has never been more important. It’s estimated that by 2022, at least 54 percent of all employees will need significant reskilling and upskilling. Here are a few ways to upskill your employees:

  • Provide mentoring opportunities
  • Offer paid training time and/or flexibility to attend workshops during work hours
  • Have employees cross-train or shadow across departments and levels
  • Instill a culture of learning and coaching
  • Host lunch and learn sessions

Upskilling your team creates a safety net for your business and preserves the institutional knowledge needed to bridge Hawaii’s skills gap.

5. Encourage collaboration with age-diverse teams

Creating age-diverse teams can help to shift the collective mindset at work so that employees see each other as partners, not opponents. It helps to bring new perspectives, fresh ideas, and ultimately better results. In fact, inclusive teams make better business decisions 87 percent of the time and deliver 60 percent better results than non-inclusive teams. Employees should feel comfortable to express their ideas and concerns in an open, respectful environment.

Like it or not, multigenerational workforces are here to stay and companies who fail to stay flexible risk losing some of their most valuable employees.

Managing an increasingly diverse team is no easy task. That’s why we offer a wide range of supervisor and employee management training courses. To schedule a consultation with one of our expert team members, call (808) 591-4900 today!

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