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Managing across generations

When your hotshots don’t trust anyone over 30

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

Thirty years ago, we called it “the generation gap.” Now we fret about keeping Generation X workers happy. But managers still wonder how to cultivate young employees who bring different attitudes to the job.

Most employees from Generation X and Generation Y (age 20 and younger) have a higher tolerance for risk than baby boomers. They do not value job security as much as job satisfaction. Downsizing doesn’t faze them because they’re not afraid to hop from job to job.

Here’s how to help fresh-faced workers thrive and get along with older staffers:

Tie the past with the future. Don’t subject young workers to when-I-wasyour- age talk. Instead, stoke their curiosity about the past by relating it to what’s ahead. For example, assemble a team of employees of different ages to compare past business cycles to the present. Encourage collaboration.

Customize incentives. A precocious 21-year-old will not respond to the same motivational tricks as a grizzled veteran, so let individuals dictate how you reward them. A 25-year-old manager for a manufacturer tells us he resents the silly trophy that his former boss gave to the employee of the month. “Why should I bust my butt for a meaningless prize when there are things I really want?” he asks. “My new boss asks me to what extent I want to be pushed and how I want to be rewarded.”

Avoid labels. If you pass judgment about employees based on age (such as “I need a young buck to help me with this project”), others may pick up your bias. Soon, assumptions will fly as team members flaunt preconceived notions of age. And your company could land in legal hot water.

Never judge someone based on age. If you hear a fortysomething manager say, “Steve is too wet behind the ears to have any experience with this,” don’t nod and accept it. Say, “Why don’t you ask him?”

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