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Baby boomers, Generation X and Millennials: How to help them work together

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The Canadian work force is more diverse than ever before. In addition to employing people of different genders, races and religions, most businesses now include workers from as many as four very different generations. Businesses should make the most of this diversity.

"Generational diversity can be an advantage," says Mary Karamanos, BDC's Senior Vice President of Human Resources. "In today's competitive business world, we need to use every advantage to maximize our competitive edge."

Demographic transition

The baby-boom generation—which was born between 1946 and 1965, and which has dominated the labour market for many years—is now preparing to retire. According to Statistics Canada, some 7.5 million workers are due to retire in the coming years.

As the baby boomers leave the work force, they are being replaced by members of Generation X—born between 1966 and 1980—and Millennials or Generation Y—born between 1981 and 2000. The coming years will also see the first members of Generation Z (born after 2000) enter the labour force.

Millennials and members of Generation Z will account for half of the workforce by 2020, and close to three quarters by 2030.

Generations have different skills and expectations

To navigate this demographic transition, entrepreneurs will have to manage the different skills and expectations of multiple generations.

For example, Millennials and members of Generation Z tend to be better educated and more tech-savvy than previous generations.

But, this is not the only difference. Studies show that Millennials also have different work expectations than their predecessors. They value a good work-life balance, flexible working arrangements (i.e., remote work, flexible hours), professional development and a sense of purpose to their work, among other things.

Drawing on the strengths of each generation

While some experts see the differences between the generations as a possible problem, Karamanos believes it is more beneficial to look at them as potential sources of synergy.

To get the best from all your workers, you must first understand what drives them. By identifying each generation's strengths, you can develop a road map to get the best performance on a day-to-day basis, minimize difficulties when making changes in the company, and make it easier for senior employees to pass the torch to younger employees.

Once you recognize the contributions that each generation can make to the workplace, you should be better able to motivate your work force for maximum success.

Build synergies between groups

Here are some tips to help you build on synergies between baby boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z.

  • Promote an environment of open and honest communication.
  • Encourage a leadership style that adapts to the needs, experience and maturity of individuals in different situations.
  • Foster an open culture tolerant of differences, generational and otherwise.
  • Make sure that expectations are made clear to everyone.
  • Create complementary and integrated work teams of people from different generations by looking for similarities in goals and approaches.
  • Encourage mentoring.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

Never forget that each employee is a unique individual. For example, baby boomers as a group generally have a strong work ethic and have tended to work long hours for years, accumulating vital business knowledge.

You can leverage this knowledge by having employees from Generations X and Y work alongside the boomers to gain expertise that can't be found in training manuals. Boomers are in a good position to provide feedback and encourage and reward the efforts of the younger generations.

Similarly, members of Generation X can demonstrate their ability to learn quickly and manage their time efficiently to help Millennials and members of Generation Z become increasingly self-sufficient and independent.

Millennials and members of Generations Z, meanwhile, are the most tech-savvy of all the generations. The company can draw on their facility with the newest forms of technology to stay abreast of recent developments. Other generations can count on them to spearhead new ventures that can keep the business competitive.

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