Managing intergenerational talent

This article is part of a series from Good Practice, offered to ICAS members as part of the ICAS mentoring programme.

Managing a team of different ages can be highly rewarding, and provides you with a range of outlooks and expertise. It is, of course, important to acknowledge differences between different age groups, while ensuring fair and equal treatment for all. These top tips are designed to help you manage an inter-generational team successfully.

Step away from the stereotypes

You will often see different generations described in the following way:

Traditionalists - born prior to 1947

Baby Boomers - born c. 1947-1965

Generation X - born c. 1966-1977

Generation Y - born after 1978

These different age groups are often given their own particular attributes and attitudes. Traditionalists are seen as hardworking, loyal and thrifty; Baby Boomers as optimistic and cause-oriented; Generation X as personally focused and living for today; and Generation Y as restless, entrepreneurial and questioning.

While appreciating there may be broad differences between the generations in terms of their influences, motivators and expectations, it is important to avoid stereotyping. Take time to find out what individual team members need from you as their manager, in order to help them be effective in their role.

Don't feel intimidated by older team members

If you are a young manager in charge of older workers, you may find yourself deferring to them on the basis of their greater experience. It is important to avoid doing this if you can help it, as this may send out the wrong signals to the rest of the team. Have confidence in your management abilities – you have been appointed their manager for a reason. That being said, it is important to make use of their knowledge and experiences when it makes sense to do so.

Older team members may find it uncomfortable to be led by someone much younger, but by ensuring you are competent, professional and supportive at all times, you can ensure their commitment and respect.

Encourage contributions from younger employees

Great work and new ideas can come from employees of all ages. Younger employees, however, may lack the confidence or even the opportunity to put their suggestions across. Remember that team meetings are not the only forum for highlighting individual achievements and suggestions for ways of doing things better. Be sure that you use performance review meetings or one-to-one catch-ups to help employees, particularly younger ones, to do this.

If you suspect you have a tendency to implement ideas from the same group of people, why not set up an anonymous suggestion box, to allow you to judge all ideas purely on their merits?

Tap into different knowledge and skills

With a multi-generational team you have the advantage of access to a range of skills and experience. When allocating tasks and projects, it is good to have a range of ages working together in order to allow them to learn from each other. Use your one-to-one meetings and performance reviews to establish team members' strengths and preferences, which will help you to put together effective project groups.

Give regular feedback

Different generations may have different needs when it comes to receiving feedback. Generation Y team members tend to prefer ongoing feedback, for instance. Getting into the habit of offering regular feedback and praise to all team members will ensure that all your employees are aware of how well you think they are doing.

Deliver learning in a range of formats

When it comes to learning and development, different generations may have different learning preferences. Older employees may well prefer a structured approach while younger workers often prefer collaborative and interactive activities. To ensure different ways of learning are catered for in your team, it is therefore important to offer a range of approaches. Again, asking team members for their views can help you decide on the most appropriate activities.

Consider different ways of working

While some older employees may be used to a 9 to 5 job, flexibility and work-life balance are often more important to Generation X and Y. You may wish to consider allowing some form of flexible working in your team to enable employees to work and travel at a time that suits them best. It is important to ensure that employees of all ages are given the opportunity to work flexibly or to work from home, should you choose to introduce this in your team.

Build relationships

You can help to foster inter-generational relationships by providing teambuilding events and social activities which allow employees to get together and learn about each other in a more relaxed setting. Think about what types of things will appeal to employees of all ages. There are no hard and fast rules about what older and younger workers would prefer to do. However, particularly physically demanding activities may not be appropriate for everybody. The best thing to do is to come up with a range of suggestions and then ask your team to give you their feedback.

Tackle conflict when it arises

As with any type of team, there is the potential for conflict from time to time. If there is a clash between older and younger team members, it is important to find out what is at the root of the problem. It may simply be miscommunication, or it could be due to a lack of respect from one or other party. Early action should ensure that minor disagreements are not allowed to grow into more serious issues.


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