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Top tips for managing a multi-generational workforce

  • December 18, 2017

What are the five main generational groups?

Today’s workforce comprises five generational cohorts, each spanning roughly fifteen years, all of whom have grown up in differing social, historical and economic contexts. Most people have heard of ‘Baby Boomers’ (people born between 1945 – 1964), ‘Generation X’ (1965 – 1979) and ‘Millennials’ (1980 – 1994). However, a new ‘Generation Z’ of those born in 1995 or later is emerging and, as the state pension age continues to rise, we are seeing more people working who are pre-Baby Boomers.

Can they work together effectively?

We can assume, quite logically, that employees of different generations will have unique traits shaped by the contexts in which they grew up and also that they will typically be at different stages of their careers. However, because times have changed so much between 1945 and today, it is also often presumed that employees will have varying motivators and aspirations depending on their age and will behave differently at work as a result. A global survey of 2500 executives by Future of Work Consortium, found that almost a quarter believed that ‘inter-generational cohesion’ was the most significant risk their company faced, suggesting that these multi-generational workforces create a climate of tension and misunderstanding.

But it’s not that simple. While each generation will have unique traits – for example, Millennials and Generation Z have been immersed in technology from birth – often they have more in common with each other than not. Ron Zemke, co-author of the book Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Boomers, says: “Generational conflict is more likely to arise from errors of attribution and perception than from valid differences.” The key to effectively leading such a varied group of staff is to understand and respect differences, but avoid assuming people fit negative stereotypes. In short: treat staff as individuals.

So, with that in mind, what are the top tips for law firms with a multi-generational workforce?

  1. HR professionals and leaders must create a culture where diversity is recognised and each generation’s different experiences, knowledge and viewpoints are respected and welcomed.
  2. Create effective and collaborative multi-generational teamwork by publicly identifying each person’s skills in the group, i.e. “Claire practised in France for many years so could advise here.”
  3. According to HayGroup’s thought paper, it is a myth that different generations need different management styles to engage and motivate them. Instead, firms should ensure that leaders are equipped to adapt their styles so that they focus on individuals, rather than attempting generation-specific leadership.
  4. Employees, should receive coaching as individuals with their generational needs and career stage in mind. For example, Generation Z may be in most need of an onboarding and socialisation programme as they enter the profession and Millennials are likely to look for support as they seek advancement, particularly as managers.
  5. Provide real time feedback, not just annual appraisals, so you are in tune with each employee’s ongoing needs for support.
  6. Research shows that training preferences vary between generations. The CIPD’s Tapping into Talent report found that Generation X and Millennials preferred independent learning using computer-based training or the internet, whereas Baby Boomers and pre-Baby Boomers preferred more traditional classroom or paper-based training. Ideally, training should be tailored to individuals or a mix of both types used where possible.
  7. HayGroup’s analysis of five million employees’ data found that all generations cite exciting and challenging work as the primary reason for staying at their company. Younger generations – unsurprisingly, as they start out in their careers – seek ‘opportunities to advance’ as the next most important factor, whereas at 55 plus, ‘meaningful work’ replaces advancement opportunities. Seek feedback from employees on how far these needs are being met.
  8. Be forward thinking. Technology allows us to work anywhere, but many law firms still insist that people work at their desks. Digital natives such as Millennials and Generation Z may find this frustrating.
  9. Consider how far remuneration packages appeal to each generation. Much has been made of most Millennials’ current inability to purchase property. According to a NexGen survey by PwC, most would now choose workplace flexibility, work/life balance and the opportunity for overseas assignments over financial rewards.

So, putting stereotypes of each generation aside, ultimately employees want the same thing: to be challenged at work and to have a good manager who acts as a coach and helps them achieve their specific career goals. Is your firm making the most of a multigenerational workforce?

To discuss how Clayton can find the right people for your firm, please contact us

Take a look at some of our other blogs, to gain more insight into the legal sector

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