How to Motivate and Retain Multigenerational Teams

How do you bridge generational gaps and motivate your workforce? We have a few tips.

January 20, 2011
from Robert Half Finance & Accounting

One of the biggest challenges facing managers today is effectively directing and motivating an increasingly multigenerational workforce. Delayed retirements and second careers have contributed to a significant widening of the age range in many offices, which now encompass Traditionalists (born before 1945), baby boomers (born from 1946 to 1964), Generation X (born from 1965 to 1978) and Generation Y (born from 1979 to 1999).

A generational mix can create challenges for managers since employees of different ages often have varying priorities, skill sets, work styles and perspectives. It can be difficult to keep everyone content, productive and focused on the team’s shared mission. However, businesses can realize many advantages from drawing on the strengths and experiences of workers of various demographic groups. As a supervisor, these tips can help you bridge generational gaps among staff members and achieve better results as a unified team:

Consider generational differences but avoid stereotyping. Demographers maintain that each generational group has distinct similarities in attitudes, values, expectations and work styles. By developing greater awareness of these broad generational attributes, you can improve your ability to give employees from different groups the support they need to thrive professionally.

Although managers should be aware of similarities in attitudes and values that may exist among members of a generational group, they must be careful not to buy into myths or base decisions solely on these considerations. Not all members of an age cohort feel the same way about an issue or have identical preferences. Even so, being aware of potential differences in the preferences of various age groups can help you better tailor policies and management style. Just don’t go too far.

Acknowledge the impact of the downturn. The Great Recession has had a decided effect on the priorities of the various generations. For a survey conducted in connection with a recent Robert Half white paper, we recently interviewed members of the three largest groups in the workplace today: baby boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. The results of the survey, now available in Workplace Redefined: Shifting Generational Attitudes During Economic Change, show that a desire for job stability — traditionally thought of primarily as the province of baby boomers — is top of mind for individuals from all generations today. Almost 30 percent of Gen Y respondents, the group in recent years considered the most likely generation to move from job to job, said they plan to build tenure with their current employer.

Another example of shifting priorities is concern in the past decade about the effect of boomers retiring in one huge wave. To the contrary, slightly more than half (54%) of baby boomers in the U.S. and Canada surveyed said they expect to work past the traditional retirement age of 65, with 56 percent citing the recession as having had a very strong impact on their decision to stay in the workforce.

Pay competitively. Both Gen X and Gen Y ranked salary as their top focus when evaluating job offers. Baby boomers cited it third, after benefits and company stability.

Thirty-seven percent of employees said they are not fairly compensated for having taken on a greater workload during these times of reduced staff sizes. To ensure your team members don’t fall into the same group, review salaries and make sure they’re in line with or slightly above what competitors provide. The 2011 Salary Guide from Robert Half International, government reports and association surveys are just a few resources that can help you benchmark your pay levels. If you are unable to match what others are offering in salary, be sure to regularly recognize individual and team achievements through sincere praise during meetings — and perhaps providing time off for a job well done. While salary may be king, it’s sometimes surprising to managers how far heartfelt expressions of appreciation can go to raise morale.

Support professional growth. Many people have recognized that job security today is heavily dependent on the quality and marketability of their own talents and knowledge. More than a third of all workers polled (34%) said they plan to improve their skill sets to become more marketable.

Aim to become known as an employer that supports staff by investing in training programs. This is a win-win: Your employees are pleased that they’re keeping their skills sharp while their increased expertise boosts their value to your organization. If formal learning opportunities are out because of budget limitations, consider less expensive alternatives such as mentoring and cross training.

By taking action and addressing potential retention issues that now appear to be more uniform among the generations, you can help avoid an exodus of employees as economic conditions continue to improve. You’ll build loyalty, which can give you the solid base of talent to lead your organization in the coming years.

Founded in 1948, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a division of Robert Half International, is one of the world’s first and largest specialized financial recruitment services. The company has more than 360 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.roberthalf.com.