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Age-centric Organizations May Not Make It: Why Multigenerational Teams Succeed

The saying, “newer is better,” may be appropriate for iPhones, but a new article from Entrepreneur says that a combination of newer and older generations may be the key to your company’s success.

“Companies are clamoring for advice on how to attract and retain members of this tech-savvy generation,” contributor Caren Maio writes. “But it’s important to remember there are other people in the workforce, too. Lots, actually.”

Before we jump into the nuances of this discussion, let’s take a look at how many people from each generation are in the workforce:

  • Millennials: 55 million
  • Gen X: 53 million
  • Baby Boomers: 44 million

As you can see, Millennials and Gen Xers have similarly sized workforces. And while Baby Boomers face a 20% disadvantage, they’ve still got a powerful voice.

And speaking of voice, the two previous generations have a knack for speaking up when bright-eyed newbies pitch a vision without a plan.

Older Generations Provide a Roadmap for Millennial Visionaries

One of the things that Maio (a Millennial herself) discusses in her article is her position as a founder, and how the company’s Gen X CEO keeps her headed in the right direction through his wisdom. Granted, this is a bit caricatured; businesspeople 35 and older have a lot more to offer than “experience.”

However, Maio brings up some good points in relation to this principle. Namely, older generations “don’t just believe in the vision, they know how to get you there.”

One only has to look as far as Facebook and Hootsuite to see this principle at work. Mark Zuckerberg and his decision makers brought in 46-year-old Sheryl Sandberg to be their COO, while Hootsuite’s leadership team is stacked with players who are more than a few years older than founder Ryan Holmes.

“Advancing your startup from Point A to Point B takes more than hard work and energy. It all has to be channeled in the right direction,” Maio wrote. “Veteran employees with more years under their belts tend to know which steps to take to ensure you’ll meet that milestone that’s months or even years down the road.”

Gen Xers Have More to Lose

Another part of this discussion is life stages – Baby Boomers are at or past retirement age. They’ve got a keen sense of what finances their working with as they contemplate retirement.

Gen Xers, on the other hand, have a bit more of a tenuous future. They’ve most likely got a mortgage and family, as well as a retirement plan that has yet to reach maturity. With these unknowns in constant flux, stability is key. They don’t have the security of Baby Boomers, nor do they have the lack of commitments of Millennials.

And when it comes to helping a business succeed, the need for stability translates to a certain tenacity that impacts decisions, forecasting and availability.

Here’s what Maio wrote:

“If the company goes bust, (Gen Xers) can’t just crash on Mom’s couch, or backpack around Europe while waiting for the next job to come their way. And that reality shows in everything they do, from the questions they ask about a risky move, to the fact that they’re more likely to be available after hours or on weekends.”

It’s true; most Gen Xers have a lot to lose if a company goes under or salaries are capped or reduced. There are certain qualities in an employee that can’t be taught; a do-or-die mentality is one of them.

Up to this point, we’ve pointed out some of the differences between generations and how they can be beneficial for the workplace. But comparing Millennials with their older counterparts isn’t just a matter of differences.

Forbes contributor Cy Wakeman says there’s plenty in common between generations.

Think Millennials are on Another Planet? Think Again

Wakeman’s assertion that workforces are more similar than we think is based on an IBM Institute for Business Value study of Millennials in the workplace. Here are some of that study’s conclusions:

  • Millennials want financial security, inspirational leadership, seniority and performance-based recognition just as much as other generations.
  • More Gen Xers than Millennials believe that everyone on a team should be rewarded for the team’s success.

These two facts alone are pretty startling for those of us who’ve been living with the stereotypes that Millennials crave attention and reward more than others and that they’re less focused on old-school structures like seniority.

“It’s no secret that younger generations tend to get a bad rap, especially at work,” Wakeman wrote. “But the facts are telling us a different story.”

Making it Work: Thriving in a Multigenerational Workplace

We’ve only covered a few of the major nuances to the multigenerational discussion. Both the Forbes and Entrepreneur articles bring up some excellent points. Our main takeaway? That all generations have something to offer, and no one generation can be neatly tucked into a bed of stereotypes.

Individuals are part of a larger generation, but they still must be treated as individuals.

In an interview with Forbes contributor Karen Higginbottom, Reflektive CEO Rajeev Behera sums up the key to this generational interplay.

“In order to effectively manage a multigenerational workforce,” Behera told Higginbottom, “we must see each employee as an individual, and empower our managers to coach them on both personal and organizational objectives.”


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