Articles and books about managing multi-age workforces are legion. Most cite one or two very popular works about the characteristics of each named age-cohort. Many even offer advice on how to lead teams with a diverse mixture of generations represented, but of all this counsel, instances of over-generalization abound and specific strategies for blending could stand more attention.
Today’s workforce consists primarily of three generational groupings: Baby-boomers, Generation X and Generation Y, the last of these born in the early-1980s who will continue to populate the workforce for about the next decade. In addition to these groupings, work environments have evolved and continue to evolve: change as a constant and frequent collaboration among constantly shifting team-makeups is the new norm. For the Human Resource manager, tapping into the full potential of such a diverse labor force requires a good deal of creativity and deftness at team building. One powerful means of bringing out the best from all generations in your team is through volunteering opportunities, activities that, if well planned, draw upon the best each group has to offer.
Company volunteer events can have broad appeal on multiple levels making them good candidates for effective, though low-key blending or bonding activities. Community not-for-profits are always looking for manpower to carry out big, single event projects, though many have ongoing tasks for companies to “adopt.” Here are some broad considerations for selecting an appropriate organization:
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Stability – Does the organization have an unbroken history of service?
Reputation – Is there any significant bad press associated with the group or its principle leaders?
Mission appeal – Is the general mission of the organization one the vast majority of your employees would favorably view?
Once you select a suitable group, make sure you have plenty of flexibility as to how your company’s contribution will be organized. After all, one goal of yours is to have the chance to develop your team’s cohesiveness. Don’t be afraid to negotiate with the service group the ability to structure how you do perform your work.
The act of performing some new function as a part of a volunteer activity presents brainstorming, creativity and multi-generational teamwork potential. Most of your new-hires will likely come from that much-unfairly-maligned Generation Y. Let’s clear away the fog right away and get a useable view of this generation’s many talents and needs.
Not surprisingly, those who originally labeled Gen-Y members as narcissistic and coddled by their over-indulging parents did not come from that generation. This slightly underscores the need to break down false stereotypes within all age groups. Gen-Y employees do tend to embrace, if not expect, change and they have high expectations from their leaders. Give them clear objectives, timelines and as much latitude as your mission can afford, and this highly-educated cohort will put into a work task the same energy and commitment as they do a video game.
Generation Y, those born in the mid-60s throughout the 70s, are among the best educated generations produced. They also come from the first generations to not do quite as well as their parent’s, leading to a high dose of skepticism for leaders and other generations. Change may be considered merely passing fads, and they need solid evidence as to why a change is needed. While they may be somewhat contemptuous of younger workers, they are results-oriented and open to new ways as long as they are pragmatic – meaning that Generation-Y workers who make something work in unique ways can earn the respect of those among their nearest adult generation.
Baby boomers, those now in their early 50s right up to retirement age, tend to be uncomfortable with change. Their education was structured, their employment organizations hierarchical and their tasks clear cut and closely managed. They seek security yet accept the elusive nature of safety in these times. They’ve had decades to learn what doesn’t work and what does, and while these experiences can lead to risk aversion, don’t discount a wealth of know-how.
Roughly translated, Gung Ho is Chinese for “working together.” Using a volunteer activity as a method of building a well-functioning, cross-generational team is an excellent opportunity to this end. The Baby boomers know which pairing of tools and techniques have resulted in good outcomes, while Gen-Y workers will often synthesize these techniques in a creative way, and Generation X employees will make sure that any creativity actually meets the job’s requirements efficiently and pragmatically. Develop the skills among these groups and you’ll have a team, not just groups of people doing things their own way.
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