Leading a Multicultural & Multigenerational Workforce
We’re in an ever changing work environment today—the world is smaller and a homogeneous workplace no longer exists for most of us. Today, leaders deal with a variety of employees across generational and cultural lines, each with their own values, beliefs, work ethics and needs. It is the mosaic of people who bring a variety of backgrounds, styles and perspectives as assets to the groups and organizations with which they interact.
Today, as leaders, it is about valuing, appreciating, respecting and adapting to each other and our cultural and generational differences. The intent is to make the most of everyone’s potential contribution.
If employees feel that they can’t be themselves at work, they won’t fully engage as part of the team. This type of environment can significantly influence an employee’s involvement in their department or organization; it can potentially lead to low morale, increased absenteeism and decreased productivity. Leaders play an important role in setting the tone for diversity and inclusiveness.
Encourage and embrace diversity in the workplace
- Learn about the cultural backgrounds, lives and interests of employees outside of the workplace
- Include opportunities for staff to interact in settings outside of work so that employees feel more comfortable
- Ensure all employees have the opportunity to take part in decision-making and planning for social activities
- Be aware of, and provide time off for, culturally significant events and holy days. Consider offering a float day for employees to use at their discretion to observe such events or days.
- If possible, permit flexible schedules so that employees who observe religious practices can arrange their schedules around their beliefs.
Strategies for leading across generations and cultures
Working with four generations in the workplace takes communication to a new level. You can’t assume that what you said is what the other person heard. Because generations communicate differently, it’s important to tailor your message for maximum effect.
- Have a regular program to teach and encourage employees to appreciate the differences between the cultures and generations
- Acknowledge diverse perspectives on issues
- Make sure everyone is included in team discussions and decisions
- Ensure that the company’s mission and goals are clear to people of all cultures and generations
- Adapt your style as needed to accomplish the goals of the organization
If you are a part of Generation X or the Millennials, you will gain more credibility and respect from Boomers or Traditionalists by communicating with them in their terms. When working with each other and clients, younger generations should treat older generations with more formality. Avoid familiarity unless it’s invited or permitted after your request.
All generations should treat the others with respect and be open to their ideas. Consider how each generation’s perspectives affect how they work together on teams. For example, a Baby Boomer or Traditionalist generation member has a lot of life and work experience and can offer a longer term perspective. Younger generations are more in tune with what’s important to younger people and markets and know what will work best with them.
Consider how words have different meanings to different generations (e.g., “wicked” means cool, neat or awesome to younger generations but evil or bad to older generations). Avoid using pop culture terms.