Just a few years ago, many people thought of their workplace as a second home. Colleagues were the people that we sat next to every day, went out to lunch with, talked to about personal issues, and vented to about work and life. Almost overnight, that feeling of community disappeared as we all hunkered down in our homes and everything changed.
Even as we continue to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is a complex time to run a business. Executives are tasked with managing increasingly geographically dispersed teams, a hybrid work model that includes both remote and in-office roles, concerns surrounding both inflation and economic recession, mental health concerns and, for the first time ever, five distinct generations in the office—all with different needs and motivations.
So how do we rebuild the kind of culture that helps employees feel like they belong and are part of something special while facing so many logistical challenges? We need to get back to the idea that, even while fractured, offices can be playful, fun, exciting and rewarding for everyone involved. That starts with understanding who your workers are and finding ways to engage them. The underlying common threads can be built on if you know where to look.
Let me break up the workforce into generational categories and talk about what motivates them so you can see what I mean.
As the oldest generation still working, traditionalists are sometimes overlooked. However, an unpredictable economy means that some continue on in careers they have held for decades, and others are branching into something new to make ends meet. If you have traditionalists on your team, you will find that they are generally highly motivated by specific goals, relationships and loyalty to those around them.
Most managers are familiar with the Boomers, who are delaying retirement more now amid economic uncertainty. Overall, they tend to be both a competitive crowd and very social. Broadly speaking, they don’t like to be told what to do, and they thrive on goals that have rewards attached.
Sandwiched between the dominating presence of the Baby Boomers and the Millenials that no one can stop talking about, Gen X have their own distinct traits that managers need to know about. Still not digital natives, Gen Xers are a lot more comfortable with technology than their predecessors. They prefer to work alone but with plenty of feedback. Gen X are motivated by practicality—if something adds to their ability to do their job better or advance in their career, they are usually interested.
Millennials have been economically unlucky, and perhaps that is why their motivations are tied more closely to work-life balance and their own mental health than salary increases. They tend to value mentorship, benchmarks and social causes. The bottom line is that Millennials are motivated by both experiences and rewards.
Gen Z is just entering the workforce, and they are already making changes. This is the first generation that truly does not remember a time before personal computers and the internet. They are highly visual learners motivated by stability and relationships, and they expect flexibility in their work.
As you consider the various generations working together, there are many strategies you can use to build a strong community. Here are a few ideas to bring your team together in a way that everyone can relate to:
Online games gained popularity as a corporate culture tool during the pandemic because they are fun, simple to organize and they work across time zones. A twist on that idea is shorter games that allow employees to participate independently while still being part of the group.
Almost anything in the workplace can be gamified. Using this strategy is a great way to help dispersed co-workers learn each other’s names, figure out where they fit into the company structure, share experiences and have fun, all at the same time. Leaderboards can be physical or virtual, so they easily fit into a hybrid work model. So long as the competition is integrated with tasks and challenges that are part of their ordinary workflow, most employees will likely enjoy participating.
The great thing about mentorship in the workplace is that it encompasses all generations and can be customized to fit every style of learning. With technology available like video coaching, virtual meetups and collaborative and social learning platforms, mentoring can be done digitally as well as in person to accommodate individual needs.
It takes work to build a strong company culture. Learning the needs and wants of your employees as a group and as individuals requires more than just reading a few bullet points about generational differences. However, using that knowledge as a starting point can lead to interesting ideas about what will bring people together instead of driving them further apart.
Our fractured workplaces will never be the same, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get back to a sense of real community within our teams. Shared experiences, whether virtual or physical, are an important part of creating common ground. That common ground leads to trust, which can lead to the kind of organization where peers can rely on each other for help at work and support in other areas of their lives.