Senior living communities will soon have up to 5 generations under their roofs. All have a unique generational perspective to share.

By Susan Saldibar

There are some great articles out there on engaging Millennials in the workplace. But the truth is that senior living communities will soon have up to 5 generations under their roofs. Depending on which source is used, the “year born” boundaries and general descriptions differ. But, generally speaking, they are as follows:

  1. The Silent Generation: 1925-1944 – (Depression, WWII)

  2. The Baby Boomers: 1945-1965 – (Vietnam, Assassinations, Women’s Rights)

  3. Generation X: 1966-1980 – (Reagan era, MTV, AIDS)

  4. The Millennials: 1981-1997 – (Desert Storm, Iraq, 9/11)

  5. Generation Z: 1998-2010 – (Post 9/11, terrorism, financial crisis)

All have a unique generational perspective to share. And all can work effectively together. But only with education, engagement and communication. So where to begin?  

Sodexo, a Senior Housing Forum partner, has been providing employers worldwide with intelligence and insight into workforce trends for a number of years and is a leader in the effort to help employers harness the creativity and energy of today’s diverse workforce. Sodexo Insights is an educational website they have created, which contains a wealth of information on a variety of workforce-related topics. One such topic, as you might guess, is the challenge of managing a multi-generational workforce.

It’s tempting to stereotype. Don’t.

The first rule of thumb, according to Sodexo, is not to get too caught up with stereotypes. While there are some general attributes common to each generation, it should not be assumed that, for instance, a Boomer is more achievement-oriented than a Millennial. So much has to do with the individual and his or her personality and life/work experience. Creating broad brush programs that stereotype by generation are, according to experts, setting employers up for failure. The best way to encourage different generations of workers to interrelate and work better together is to recognize each person’s individuality, but within the context of his or her generation.

Here are four keys suggested by Sodexo to bring out the best in each generation under your roof:

  1. Understand the key emotional and career drivers of the person you are hiring.

    For senior living communities, that person will most likely be a Millennial. A 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, as referenced on the Sodexo Insights website, found that 44% of Millennials have turned down a job because of an organization’s values. What does that mean to you? Perhaps more attention and discussion about your community’s mission and greater goals. Taking time to ask a Millennial what he or she is seeking in terms of job satisfaction will help guide you. Just make sure you are prepared to speak to their overall priorities and concerns. It may not be all about money.

  2. Educate all team members to understand and appreciate the residents’ unique generation.

    This “Silent” generation has so much collective experience and wisdom to share. How can you make their stories become part of your day-to-day curriculum? Encouraging everyone, from the residents to the youngest new employees to share their own stories not only connects your residents to your staff, but it helps improve the understanding and appreciation of each generation.

  3. Foster mentoring and reverse-mentoring programs.

    Younger team members can certainly learn from older staff. But don’t underestimate the power of reverse-mentoring; such as encouraging younger employees to guide Boomers in areas where they may excel. As Lorna Donatone, CEO of Sodexo Schools Worldwide, relates in an article on inter-generational workers from Sodexo Insights, “For younger employees, mentors are invaluable advocates and guides who can help integrate them into a workplace and learn to successfully navigate business environments. Senior employees who act as mentors can probably also learn a few things from their younger, digitally savvy counterparts.”

  4. Design incentives that reflect the individual at his or her life stage.

    As an example, the Discussion Between Generations panel at the Sodexo Quality of Life Conference revealed some of the thinking concerning benefits and incentives from Millennial panelists: “The Millennial panelists’ wish list for the future includes benefits that allow their future families to be well provided for. Interestingly, they also seek freedom from anxiety, perhaps reflecting their own family experiences. This is connected to the desire for great benefits to reduce family-related anxieties, so to the extent that companies can address this need, they will promote employee satisfaction.”

Inter-generational engagement isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s a necessary thing to do.

The greatest challenge to senior living communities right now is engaging Millennial workers. Providing a way for them to connect in a meaningful way to past generations can bring powerful value and meaning to this often misunderstood generation.  

As Lorna Donatone states in Sodexo Insights, “It’s common to see companies cater to Millennials by creating a very casual work atmosphere, but that kind of environment isn’t a fit for every organization. The truth is that you don’t have to put a foosball table in the conference room to keep your employees engaged. Instead, focus on creating a company culture where employees feel valued and see opportunities to succeed. More junior employees need to be able to share ideas – because their voices matter – whether that’s through formal feedback programs or casual check-ins.”

For more information on effectively channeling the generations to work together, please visit Sodexo’s educational website, Sodexo Insights.