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Collaboration, Communication Key to Successful Multi-Generational, Multi-Cultural Workplaces

As workforces continue to diversify, bridging the divide between cultures within increasingly global teams, while also maximizing the benefits of a multi-generational workplace, has never been more critical. Whether you’re a small business looking to enhance your team, or large corporation trying to increase its talent pool, it’s important to know what each unique group can bring to the table—while keeping the lines of communication flowing.

Let’s start with different generations. Cam Marston, a leading expert on generational change and its impact on the workplace and marketplace, tells us that the key to creating a robust and motivated multi-generational team is “understanding workplace preferences that are unique to each generation and figuring out how to make each group happy and productive in the ways they work”. But where to begin? Here are a few key findings about each generation that could help companies tap their unique talents:

Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and Matures (Before 1946)

    • Benefits. According to Marston, while some businesses are not taking advantage of the so-called “older generation’s” talents, many others are—and with good results. For example, according to a recent survey, the 50+ generation has a strong desire to pass the baton and help younger people succeed. In fact, 80 percent of those who are still in the workforce say they’re willing to be a mentor to younger people entering their fields, even if it means sacrificing their own free time. This is evident in additional research that finds the older generation tends to flock to education, health care, government and nonprofit organizations in encore careers—cementing the idea that their work tends to take on a deeper personal meaning and connects them to something larger than themselves.
    • Challenges. While they’re passionate about mentoring, Marston says understanding communication differences between the younger and older generations is critical. “The younger people aren’t willing to listen and learn the way the 50+ expect them to,” says Marston. “The younger people are interested in a quick solution to a problem and a mentoring approaching is a process they deem too long. Another problem is that the 50+ want a certain attitude of deference out of the younger ones and, when they don’t find that, don’t bother to follow through with the mentoring.” If this challenge is met, however, Boomers and Matures tend to be low-maintenance, high-reward, loyal and reliable employees that bring great customer service skills and teaching capabilities to the table.
    • Takeaways. Give them predictability in benefits, and opportunities to learn, to teach, and to feel valued. Also, when training older workers, “The more senior the more hands-on learning they need,” according to Marston.

Gen X (1965-1979)

    • Benefits. For this group, research finds work-life balance is one of the most important aspects of a job, much more so when compared to their baby boomer peers. Training opportunities, tuition reimbursement and office perks also registered more strongly. Having a sense of pride in their work is important to Gen Xers, according to recent studies, as is good pay and bonuses, time off, financial stability and a good company culture. While they may claim that vacation time is an important benefit, it often goes unused by this dedicated group—with many citing work as the reason in a recent survey. They’re also passionate about their jobs, listing the ability to “make a difference” as being important in job satisfaction. In addition, executives in a recent poll named Gen Xers as being the “most invested” in their jobs, when compared to other generations.
    • Challenges. If your work culture doesn’t fit them, Gen Xers can feel like they aren’t thriving, leading to an uninspired worker. Experts find they tend to work well alone, which can be a positive and a negative, and enjoy their freedom and autonomy. Many have an entrepreneurial spirit, and may leave to pursue that path if they’re unhappy.
    • Takeaways. Give them an opportunity for involvement. In addition, Marston says that offering good “pay and responsibility, and flexible scheduling to allow for child-care issues” is also important.

Millennials (1980-2000)

  • Benefits. The butt of many jokes and unfounded stereotypes, Millennials often get a bad rap. While they’re certainly different from past generations (every new generation is), employers who can tap into their talents have much to gain. Research finds they tend to work well in teams and really want to make an impact on their organizations. They also value open communication with their supervisors and find it easy to embrace new technologies. In fact, according to Marston, this group needs very little hands-on help when it comes to learning new concepts. “The more junior, the more they want to learn on their own via some sort of online training. Then they come together to practice and reaffirm what they’ve learned.” They’re also the most educated generation to date, with more than one-third having at least a bachelor's degree.
  • Challenges. Overall, the goals of Millennials are in line with the overall goals of most employees. Perhaps the only challenge with this group may be high turnover, which has been true of employees under 35 for at least the past two decades.
  • Takeaways. Marston suggests giving them “stimulation, a clear career path and a flexible schedule that allows for balance.”

Much like multi-generational workplaces require communication and collaboration, so do today’s increasingly global workforces. Kelly Joscelyne, Global Chief Talent Officer for Mastercard, says it’s vital to create an environment where every team member can find harmony. “What’s important is understanding the working preferences of each individual, and adapting working styles to ensure optimal communication is achieved,” says Joscelyne. “Understanding and spending time with my team” is critical, she continues, as is “being present and being ‘human’.” Here are some global challenges and ways to address them:

  • Combating gender equality issues With global workforces come inherently different views of women in the workforce. But how can a company overcome those differences? “Our philosophy is to ensure that women can advance their careers in a supportive culture,” says Joscelyne. “We need a team of diverse experts who deliver results and live our values. In order to achieve this, we foster a culture where both gender diversity and inclusion are inherent in all that we do.” In 2016, women made up 34% of all execs at Mastercard, and has been named a top company by the National Association for Female Executives. Women also make up 40% of its US workforce.
  • Clearly defining a sense of urgency As deadlines loom, one of the biggest frustrations with working across various cultures can be the different senses of urgency. Joscelyne says her company has found ways to address it successfully. “I do make a point to set clear timing expectations with my team for all new projects,” she says. “Project teams and project leaders are established across multiple time zones, geographies, and are multi-generational. As such, global design and delivery is not contingent on one culture or generation being better at time management than anther, but rather it’s a part of our DNA.”
  • Building trust, relationships across global teams Joscelyne says that businesses can better understand the working preferences of individuals by spending one-on-one time with teams, being present, and being human. In addition, she says “global working groups, a shared understanding of our priorities, leveraging virtual collaboration tools where possible, and having rotational leadership from team members across geographies” can go a long way to bringing a global team together.

It’s a lot to consider. However, when businesses take the time to understand these different attributes and create an environment where each generation and culture can find harmony— magic can happen.

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