So what can managers do to get the most out of each staff member, regardless of their age? First and foremost, custodial executives are encouraged to find out what motivates their employees.

“Find out from the employees what they feel their biggest assets are,” says Christensen. “In performance reviews, ask, ‘What are three things that you bring to our organization that are most beneficial?’ The answer tells you what’s most important to that person, and the feedback you can give them related to their response is going to be more meaningful.”

When it comes to providing positive feedback, Millennials — and to an extent, Gen Xers — need lots of it.

“With Baby Boomers there was an emphasis on self-help and self esteem, so that’s something we gave to our kids: Lots of positive feedback,” says Christensen, a Boomer herself. “Some might say we went overboard, but I think we need to find a balance, and managers need to recognize that a lot of young people coming into the workforce are used to getting a fair amount of feedback.”

This can be particularly challenging for older generations who are managing a Generation X or Millennial employee.

“Traditionalists come from thinking ‘I’m in charge, and you do as I say because I said so.’ But younger employees don’t respond to that,” says Cowan. “A Millennial wants to know why they have to perform a certain way. They need hand-holding and they need their ideas to be considered.”

At times, Traditionalists may need to adjust their management style to accommodate the younger generation.

“People in management need to understand that you can’t give straight authoritative direction to Gen Xers or Millennials because it won’t be received well,” says Cowan. “It behooves Traditionalists to find a way to use their ideas and engage these young staff members.” 

Cowan also encourages managers to be forward thinking and change with the times. Custodial executives should keep an open mind and listen to their staff.

The older generations have a wealth of industry knowledge, while younger staff members bring fresh and innovative ideas to departments. Managers that acknowledge these positive attributes can maximize on and use them to benefit the overall departmental mission, as well as employee interaction and morale.

Jessi Moffatt, environmental services director and Gen Xer, has found that an open-minded approach is helpful in managing a multi-generational staff at Shady Lane Nursing Care Center in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

“I try to be patient and understanding, as well as flexible,” she says. “Every generation is different, and I have to adapt to their type of thinking. For example, I find that with the Baby Boomers, change can be more difficult, so the more notice I can give them on the change the better. On the other hand, the younger generations usually go with the flow and accept change more willingly.”

In addition to working with her staff, Moffatt encourages staff interaction. She often puts her Baby Boomer employees in situations where they can share their wealth of industry knowledge with younger employees through demonstration and regular discussion. The younger workers on staff are also encouraged to express new ideas that can be beneficial to departmental processes.

When discussing generational differences, many managers are quick to identify the variations as negatives — Traditionalists resist change, Boomers aren’t assertive, Gen Xers find it difficult to handle work/life balance, and Millennials pay little attention to detail. Although it is important to be aware of these traits, there is an art to overseeing multigenerational workforces and managers should, instead, be focusing on the positive attributes the various groups can bring to a department.

Traditionalists are team players that are very loyal to their organization. They respect authority, respond well to directive leadership, adhere to the rules and will often make personal sacrifices for the greater good of the department.

Baby Boomers are optimistic and work well in teams. They shy away from conflict and understand that personal growth comes as a result of hard work.

Workers that fall into Generation X are traditionally very goal orientated, accustomed to multitasking and maintain positive attitudes in the workplace. They love a challenge, are familiar with technology and seek positions that offer security.

Finally, Millennials are known to be very straightforward with their ideas, they are tenacious and very technologically savvy. They are accustomed to multitasking, function well in teams and often look for improved, more efficient ways to complete a task.

Managers that are prepared to bridge the multigenerational gap within their departments, while being mindful of the varying values of the staff, will be successful in maintaining a strong department that can work toward a common goal.

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