From boomers to bloggers--challenges of managing multi-generational teams

Abstract

As project managers continue to lead global, virtual, and multi-cultural teams, there is a demand for managing a workforce that is more diverse than ever. For the first time, management faces the challenges associated with supervising four distinct generations in one workplace—Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y. Each generation has distinct views and opinions on authority, work ethic, communication and incentives. Today, project managers need to build bridges of understanding and collaboration across multi-generations of workers in order to avoid distrust and discord within the teams.

This paper examines the challenges of leading multi-generational teams at individual and organizational levels and outline framework for melding these four different generations into a dynamic workforce. Successfully harnessing the talents and energies of every generation is a challenge but can be achieved if we build a bridge between the generations to help them collaborate and communicate (Gravett & Throckmorton, 2007).

Introduction

In this global marketplace, every employee brings valuable skills and talents. To avoid conflicts across generations, which can cause lost revenue and employee turnover, leaders and project managers need to clarify company goals and objectives and communicate the Vision. The management team needs to understand the age-distribution of the Workforce and develop strategies for attracting and retaining the generations. In this age diverse workforce with varied work ethics, a conscious effort must be made by the executive team and the organization to address this new leadership opportunity.

This paper addresses the challenges of managing the multi-generation workforce in this global economy. As team management is a core skill for high performance teams, an overview of the well known approaches to team management (Team Development Model, Belbin Team Inventory) is presented. The four distinct generations—Veterans, Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y is discussed highlighting the issues of motivating and recognizing the age diversity of employees in today's workforce.

Dynamics of Multigenerational Workplace

The four generations—Veterans, Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y have their unique work ethics, different perspectives and different ways of being managed. According to the Bureau of labor Statistics (Dohm, 2000), Gen Y is the largest group (80 million) followed by Boomers (78 million), veterans (63 million), and Gen X (48 million). Each generation is a product of defining moments and events that captured the attention. They all share a moment in time—events, images and experiences that are common irrespective of demographics. In the post-industrial info centered world, the generations are in conflict due to the differences in values, ambition, mind-sets, and demographics. This presentation will outline the similarities and differences of each generation.

With the growing need to integrate the efforts of teams composed of members from different generations and geographies, organizations need to evolve and define a new workplace planning strategy. The paper will outline how the leaders and managers need to build bridges across multi-generations of workers and not focus on differences between the groups. Also, at an organizational level, companies need to consider the looming employment gap occurring from the outflow of retiring Boomers and concentrate on the talent and creativity the new Gen Y brings. Generation Y—the future workforce may be demanding but have a clear picture of how the work should be and usually get what they want. Usually the generational differences are based on assumptions and can be resolved via channeled interactions within the team. Also, by the tactical use of employees from different generations, the project teams can be strengthened.

Engaging Gen Y—The Future Workforce

Gen Y—this group is the most high-performing, over-achieving generation, and companies are investing in them. This generation is sometimes referred to as “moofers”—mobile out of office workers. The differing motivations driven by the varied roles work plays creates a new diversity—Gen Y with individual needs and preferences. Each organization needs to focus on workplace strategy for the future workforce—how to engage them, motivate them, and keep them interested and loyal.

To engage this new generation, emphasis must be on messaging, awareness, and concern. Also, opportunity and challenges must be highlighted at each stage. As Gen Y are the children of Baby-Boomers, there must be references of “parent-tested and approved.”

Bridging the Gap—Manage Across the Generational Divide

As generational rifts continue to divide the workforce, we need to understand the conditions that cause and perpetuate them. As the workforce gets to be multi-generational, we have to harness the power in the convergence of viewpoints and passions. Aggressive communication and difference deployment are keys to creating a successful diverse workforce. “With effective tools to recruit, retain, motivate, and manage each generation, organizations can create teamwork, in today's high performance workplace” (Lancaster, 2003). At any age, it is productivity that counts.

This paper exposes the attendee to the various challenges in managing a workforce made up of multiple generations of team members.

References

Erickson, T. (2009, February). Gen Y in the workforce. Harvard Business Review, 87(2), 43-49.

Friedman, S. (2008, April). Be a better leader and have a richer life. Harvard Business Review, 86(4),112-118.

Gravett, L., & Throckmorton, R. (2007). Bridging the generation gap: How to get Radio Babies, Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Yers to Work Together and Achieve More. New Jersey: The Carrer Press Inc.

Huntley, R. (2006). The World according to Y: Inside the new adult generation. Maryborough, Victoria: Mcpherson Printing Group.

IBM Study. (2008, May).Tomorrow's leadership landscape leaderships online labs. Harvard Business Review, 86(2), 58-66.

Johnson, L. (2006). Mind your X's and Y's: Satisfying the 10 cravings of a new generation of consumers. New York: Free Press.

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Stanat M. (2006). China's Generation Y: Understanding the future leaders of the world's next superpower. China: Homa & Sekey Books.

Zemke, R., Raines, C., & Filipcza, B. (2008). Generations at work: Managing the clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers and Nexters in your workplace. New York: Amacon.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

@2010, Shobhna Raghupathy
Originally published as a part of 2010 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Melbourne, Australia

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