We’re in an ever-changing work environment today—the world is smaller and a homogeneous workplace rarely exists. Today, leaders deal with a variety of employees across generational and cultural lines, each with their own values, beliefs, work ethics and needs. Successful organizations embrace diversity and strive for inclusion among their employees. The mosaic of people who bring a variety of backgrounds, styles and perspectives are assets to the groups and organizations with which they interact.
Today, as leaders, it is about valuing, appreciating, respecting and adapting to each other and our cultural and generational differences. It’s sometimes difficult, but the intent is to make the most of everyone’s potential contribution.
If employees feel that they can’t be themselves at work, they won’t fully engage as part of the team. This type of environment can significantly influence an employee’s involvement in their department or organization; it can potentially lead to low morale, increased absenteeism and decreased productivity. Leaders play an important role in setting the tone for diversity and inclusion.
- Learn about the cultural backgrounds, lives and interests of employees outside of the workplace
- Include opportunities for staff to interact in settings outside of work so that employees feel more comfortable
- Ensure all employees have the opportunity to take part in decision making and planning for social activities
- Be aware of, and provide time off for, culturally significant events and holy days. Consider offering a float day for employees to use at their discretion to observe such events or days.
- If possible, permit flexible schedules so that employees who observe religious practices can arrange their schedules around their beliefs
Strategies for leading a diverse and multigenerational team
Working with multiple generations in the workplace takes communication to a new level. You can’t assume that what you said is what the other person heard. Because generations communicate differently, it’s important to tailor your message for maximum effect.
- Have a regular program to teach and encourage employees to appreciate the differences between the cultures and generations
- Acknowledge diverse perspectives on issues
- Make sure everyone is included in team discussions and decisions
- Ensure that the company’s mission and goals are clear to people of all cultures and generations
- Adapt your style as needed to accomplish the goals of the organization
If you are a part of Generation X or the Millennials, you will gain credibility and respect from Boomers and the Silent Generation by communicating with them in their terms. When working together with clients, younger generations should treat older generations with more formality. Avoid familiarity unless it’s invited or permitted after your request.
All generations should treat the others with respect and be open to their ideas. Consider how each generation’s perspectives affect how they work together on teams. For example, a Baby Boomer or Silent Generation member has more life and work experience and can offer a longer term perspective. Younger generations are more in tune with what’s important to younger people and markets and know what will work best with them.
Consider how words have different meanings to different generations (e.g., “wicked” means cool, fantastic or awesome to younger generations but evil or bad to older generations). Avoid using pop culture terms because in most instances, the meaning will be lost on the other person.
Managing a diverse and multigenerational team is complex, but also amazing. When done correctly, the knowledge and experience shared will keep your organization flexible well into the future.