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January 20, 2022
Managing Many Generations in the Nonprofit Workplace
By Jackie Shannon

Jackie Shannon
Jackie Shannon
With more people of all ages working in the nonprofit sector than ever before, each age group brings its own strengths, but generational differences can pose management challenges for nonprofit organizations.

Many organizations today find that four generations of employees are now working together: Traditionalists, age 66 and up; Baby Boomers, 47 #147; 65; Generation X, 31 #147; 46; and Generation Y/Millennials, 30 and younger.

When each group misunderstands—or simply fails to capitalize on--the others’ unique strengths and core values, workplace conflict results. This not only prevents the organization from doing effective work, but also from living its core values.

To avoid that, it’s important to become familiar with the following general characteristics that typically define each generation.

Traditionalists: Also referred to as “Veterans,” this generation is characterized as loyal, conservative, detail-oriented, and respectful of authority. When it comes to leadership styles, they prefer a top-down chain of command, which may be the result of more than half of the men in this group having served in the military. Traditionalists are also known as conformists and value acknowledgement for their experience and work. Many are technologically unsophisticated.

Baby Boomers: Currently known as the largest and most influential generation, Baby Boomers are viewed as nonconformists who question authority. They want respect and dislike laziness. Baby Boomers, deemed competitive workaholics, often take personal satisfaction from their contributions in the workplace. They are optimistic and results-oriented, relationship-focused, and thrive on meetings. Many Baby Boomers plan to continue to work past retirement age, possibly in a part-time capacity. In the next decade, the Generation X and Millennials will replace Baby Boomers as they retire.

Generation X: As the first generation to grow up alongside technology, Gen Xers are often characterized as creative, independent self-starters with entrepreneurial and flexible traits. While they like to be given structure and direction, Gen Xers prefer autonomy to micromanagement. They can be loyal employees, but are also known to not feel attached to any one organization, unlike previous generations. Members of this group crave flexibility and work-life balance.

Generation Y/Millennials: This generation of multi-taskers is fast-approaching the Baby Boomers in numbers. Millennials, which have never lived without today’s personal technology, can be characterized as confident nonconformists who are collaborative, open-minded, and civic minded. This group has high self-esteem and can be very demanding, since they are accustomed to getting what they want. Millennials seek personal satisfaction in their work, and as a result have the highest turnover rate. This generation also expects flexible hours and work-life balance.

Making It All Work

Not surprisingly, differences among the generations can pose challenges to a nonprofit organization, as each group views issues through its own unique lens. However, these differences also offer exciting opportunities for the groups to collaborate and achieve success together. Here are ways to smooth communications among multi-generational employees:

Adjust communication: Each generation has its own preferred method of communication. To help resolve potential issues, employees need to consider accommodating each group’s style. For example, an occasional face-to-face talk instead of only sending emails to an older co-worker shows flexibility that’s appreciated.

Encourage mentoring: Many older employees who have worked at an organization for decades possess abundant “intellectual property,” which is of great value to the next generation of leaders. Mentoring is a great way to prepare for this transition and also allows employees to learn from one another. It’s important to make sure older employees are offering suggestions and providing feedback rather than “telling” younger employees what to do. Of course, learning can go both ways. Older employees are also eager to learn, affording younger generation the opportunity to showcase their knowledge on a specific subject, such as social media.

Customize motivation and incentive: What motivates one generation does not necessarily motivate all. While older employees may value monetary incentives in recognition of their hard work, younger employees might prefer time off from work.

Recruit more creatively: With a growing number of Millennials entering the workforce and many Traditionalists and Baby Boomers staying, companies also need to rethink their recruiting. Flexible hours and telecommuting are very appealing to younger and older workers alike. Many companies are also offering volunteering as a benefit to attract Generation Y, which has the highest volunteer rate.

Nonprofit organizations that recognize and tap into the strengths of each generation, while acknowledging and respecting differences, will reap the rewards of age diversity. Organizations that can do this will create a more efficient and productive environment in which everyone learns and benefits.

Jackie Shannon is a client liaison in the Boston offices of Insperity, which provides human resources and business solutions to help improve business performance. For more information, call 800-465-3800.

August 2011
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