It's almost impossible to have a discussion about management or workplace culture without talking about different generations, how they differ, and the things they prefer.
A lot of these discussions are focused around Millennials since they're the largest group in the U.S. workforce. They want to be recognized, and they want to be rewarded for exceeding personal performance levels, we are told. They refuse to settle, they're empathetic workers, and they demand flexibility in the workplace.
These are the kind of sentiments that come up in these discussions. While those insights have their place, we've gone a little overboard with our obsession about generational differences.
Good management should absolutely consider generational differences and how younger workers see the world compared with older employees. However, as we learn about the needs and wants of each generation, we often find, that it's not only generational, we all really want similar things.
A key component of being a boss that people appreciate is to not define someone by their generation, but instead understand the personality differences in your business. There's no such thing as a cookie-cutter solution -- not for your clients and not for your employees.
Here's how to do that.
Getting to Know Your Employees as Individuals
What does honoring personality differences mean exactly? It's about getting to know and understand the person as an individual.
What motivates them? What makes them tick? Are they an extrovert or an introvert? You get the idea.
Those things cut across generations. There's a lot of talk about Millennials wanting the ability to work remotely and set their own hours, but really, that's appealing to a variety of workers for different reasons.
You may assume a Baby Boomer is traditional and wants a traditional 9-5 workday. However at this age, isn't the flexibility to have the freedom to travel when the kids have left the house or have a flexible schedule to babysit grandchildren just as important?
Millennials may get the credit because the technology to make remote work happen became more widespread as they matured in the workplace. But depending on each person's personal situation and aspirations, Millennials certainly aren't the only employees who want to take advantage of these tools and the flexibility they provide.
As a manager, you should primarily respond to personality and keep the workplace agile enough so that it can accommodate a variety of different people and preferences in a way that keeps them happy and productive.
Research tells us that Millennials prefer open workspaces, but of course, that can't be true for all the people in this age range. Some might be introverted, others might have ADD and really need quiet space to work. You want to account for those individual differences and structure your workplace that way.
I'm not telling you to discount interesting research about generational differences. Take note of it. Instead, make sure you design your workplace and management style to be flexible enough for individual differences and what makes different generations and personalities comfortable and most productive.
As the author Anikee Tochukwu Ezekiel once said: "The ability to recognize and respect individual differences is the beginning of a successful relationship."
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