Soon, if you’re not already, you might be working alongside someone who was born after the release of “Who Let the Dogs Out?” by the Baha Men.
This is not to make aware of the fact that you’re rapidly aging (although you are; we all are), or to plant that song in your head (sorry), but to draw attention to a remarkable moment in history. Millennials will soon be the second-youngest group in the workforce. At the same time, people are living longer, staying physically healthy into their 70s and 80s, delaying retirement.
Here’s what it all means: for the first time, 5 discrete generations—the Silent Generation, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, and Generation Z—will be working together. Expect sitcom-esque misunderstandings, culture clashes, and a whole mess of management and human resources challenges. As Jeanne C. Meister, a founding partner of Future Workplace, and co-author of The 2020 Workplace, recently told the Harvard Business Review:
“It’s important to be aware of generational tension—loosely defined as a lack of respect for someone who’s of a different generation from you—among colleagues. … [As a boss,] it’s your job to help your employees recognize that they each have distinct sets of skills and different things they bring to the table.”
HBR spoke to several HR experts, including Meister, to get their thoughts about managing employees across a 60-plus-year chasm. The experts’ advice? Recognize that employees may have different motivations depending on where they are in their lives—but that, ultimately, everyone wants the same things: respect, recognition of their unique achievements and personalities, and opportunities to learn from their co-workers.
For instance, Meister and others say, bosses should approach generational engagement in terms of individuals’ needs rather than broad stereotypes:
When it comes to inspiring and incentivizing employees who are much older or much younger than you, it helps to think like an anthropologist. ‘Consider where your employees are in their lives and what their needs are,’ says Meister. Younger people, for instance, typically don’t have many outside obligations; work-wise, they are motivated by new experiences and opportunities. Employees in their 30s and 40s, on the other hand, often have children and mortgages and are in need of flexibility as well as ‘money and advancement’ says [Peter] Cappelli, [professor of management at the Wharton School and co-author of Managing the Older Worker]. Workers at the end of their careers ‘are probably not as interested in training, but they do want interesting work and work-life balance,’ he says. ‘Understanding the characteristics around these predictable life paths will help you figure out how best to [divvy up] work assignments and also the best ways to manage and motivate your team.’”
The various demographics of the modern workplace share another trait as well: they all want to do the right thing, and they all want to love what they do. Make it as simple as possible for them, and reduce the guesswork around ethics and compliance, with our automated platform.
Because maybe, if we all work together, we can find the answer to that age-old question. Who did let the dogs out?