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What it Takes to Manage a Multi-Generational Workforce

By Keith Hughey, Senior Consultant

According to U.S. demographic statistics, the employee population in a typical workplace today spans four generations – from the Greatest Generation to Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y (or Millennials). Each age group brings experiences and qualities that can greatly enhance the workplace. They also bring different attitudes and expectations that must be managed effectively to maintain a productive environment for everyone.

Why leaders must be aware of generational differences

As more and more representatives of the older generations prepare to exit the workplace, there is an invaluable – although somewhat brief – opportunity for your financial institution to access the historical industry and market knowledge of senior staff members and afforded by the more tech-savvy younger workforce. To benefit from this confluence of human capital, leadership must understand how to manage across generational lines, motivating everyone to pull together to make the institution successful.

Effective leaders also need to recognize that these different workplace perspectives can affect employment processes such as attracting, training, and retaining employees, and effective employee communication techniques.

Understanding the basic ingredients

Whatever generation your employees represent, the different behaviors they exhibit are rooted in the values they were taught and the events that have unfolded throughout their lives.

To effectively manage this workforce, ask yourself:

  • Are there common values across generational lines?
  • How do your organization’s values match what you have learned about your employee mix?
  • What message is your corporate culture sending?
  • How can you motivate, recruit and retain employees based on this?
  • How do you get your entire staff on board with the decisions you need to make to be successful?

To reach your long-term goals, leadership must get everyone pulling together in the same direction, at the same time and with the same effort. For this to occur, all employees will likely have to change something about what they believe or how they react. The key is to determine how to overcome everyone’s fear of that change.

The fallacy of fear as a motivator

We’re all afraid of something – failure, the unknown, conflict – and the responses to this fear can be anything but productive. So when you propose changes to an entire group of people who are uncertain of the outcome, the typical reactions may include silence, withdrawal, anger, apathy, passive aggressive behavior or worse. None of these are effective or appropriate for a healthy, responsive work environment.

While fear as a motivator may lead to short-term results, the long-term consequences result in highly demotivated employees who are likely to either become a drag on the institution or choose to move on to another opportunity.

Replacing fear with desire

A much more effective strategy for motivating all employees, no matter their age, is to determine what it will take to fulfill their desire to be valued by the organization. Do you need to do a better job of communicating? Offer more training opportunities that lead to professional and personal growth? Or, simply take a few moments each day to recognize and praise staff members for doing their job well? When you help others achieve what they want, you build a more trusting relationship and establish a sense of teamwork where everyone shares a collective focus on the pursuit of the financial institution’s objectives.

The benefits of multi-generational collaboration

In this type of environment, there is a great benefit from blending the historic institutional knowledge with new ideas and visions for the future. As long-time employees help younger employees get up-to-speed on legacy systems, in return they can learn more about new technologies from their younger counterparts. Each generation can also help educate the others on how account holders from the different age groups prefer to receive financial products and services to strengthen your relationship with all.

When all employees work together in a collaborative environment, with a shared purpose of improving the institution’s performance, their many talents and perspectives can prove highly beneficial for its success and longevity.


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