By Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist in Boston and a lecturer at Wesleyan University. 

Rebecca Knight | c.2019 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. | From

In recent years it has become common for people belonging to multiple generations to work side by side. But whether a multigenerational workplace feels happy and productive or challenging and stressful is, in large part, up to you: the boss. How should you relate to employees of different age groups? How do you motivate someone much older or much younger than you? And what can you do to encourage employees of different generations to share their knowledge? 

Here are Five Strategies:

1. Don't dwell on differences
Generational stereotypes abound, but don’t believe them. “There is no evidence that 35-year-old managers today are any different from 35-year-old managers a generation ago,” says Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton School and a co-author of “Managing the Older Worker.” Generation-based employee affinity groups are a waste of time and energy, he adds.

2. Build collaborative relationships
While it may seem daunting to manage someone much older than you, try taking a cue from the military: The U.S. Marine Corps routinely puts 22-year-old lieutenants in charge of 45-year-old sergeants. “The mindset is to make that person your partner and involve them in everything you do,” Cappelli says. “You’re still the boss and the one making the decisions, but you should hear them out.”

3. Study your employees
“Just as you would research a new product or service, you need to study the demographics of your current workforce and the projected demographics of your future workforce to determine what they want out of their jobs, as these things are different generation to generation,” says Jeanne C. Meister, a founding partner of Future Workplace, a human resources consultancy. If your company conducts an annual survey of vision and values, Meister suggests adding new questions to the mix, such as queries about your employees’ preferred communication style and planned professional paths. Then use that information to look critically at your human resources and business strategies: What matters to different sets of employees? What can you do to attract younger or more experienced workers?

4. Create opportunities for Cross-Generational mentoring 
that pair of younger workers with seasoned executives are increasingly prevalent in many offices. “Studies show that colleagues learn more from each other than they do from formal training, which is why it is so important to establish a culture of coaching across age groups,” Meister says. Cappelli notes that young people often find it easier to take advice from an experienced worker than from one of their peers, “because they’re not competing in the same way.”

5. Consider life paths
Younger people typically don’t have many outside obligations; at work, they are motivated by new experiences and opportunities. Employees in their 30s and 40s often have children and mortgages and are in need of flexibility as well as “money and advancement,” says Cappelli. Workers at the end of their careers “are probably not as interested in training, but they do want interesting work and work-life balance,” he says. “Understanding the characteristics around these predictable life paths will help you figure out how best to [divvy up] work assignments and also the best ways to manage and motivate your team.”

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