Managing Generational Gaps on the Jobsite

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Construction companies with multigenerational workforces enjoy many benefits. Each generation has unique views and experiences, and these diverse perspectives contribute to better decision making. Employees of different ages make for a well-rounded team, with skilled workers often mentoring greener employees in their trade, and younger workers introducing their senior employees to new tools and technology.

However, it’s no secret that employees in different age groups have different work habits and values. While it’s important to avoid generalizations and ageist stereotypes, as Emma Waldman writes for the Harvard Business Review, “Each generation entered the workforce under certain conditions, which ultimately helped to shape our sense of purpose, our preferences, and our drivers for success.”

There are several ways managers and supervisors in the construction industry can effectively manage generational gaps on the jobsite and be sure each employee’s individual needs are met. Following these steps will help you support and motivate workers across every generation.

Utilize multiple communication methods

One of the most easily recognizable differences between generations is their communication preferences. This includes both the methods they use to connect and the actual content.

For example, it’s been commonly reported that millennials avoid talking on the phone while older workers may prefer a quick conversation over typing out texts or emails. Phone calls, emails, and text messages are all separate communication channels. Likewise, when Gen Z texts, they may use different phrasing and punctuation rules than baby boomers. This is an example of communication styles.

Good communication is key to effective collaboration, and in construction especially, it can make or break a project’s profitability. On a construction site, miscommunications and misinterpretations cause safety hazards, scheduling delays, and work mistakes. Every employee on the jobsite and all office stakeholders need to know what’s happening each day in the field to prevent accidents and avoid costly disputes.

Connect via technology

Investing in a digital daily reporting tool like the construction management app designed by Raken helps streamline collaboration and gives employees of all ages a way to communicate on the job with little room for errors. Using Raken’s digital project management software, field contractors can quickly and easily capture vital data from the jobsite, including clarifying photos and video, and instantly share it with all stakeholders via cloud storage. There’s no need for cross channel communication, and thanks to Raken’s intuitive design, all employees are on a level playing field with minimal training.

These digital tools promote accuracy and cut back on the need for manual data entry with standardized report templates, further reducing communication errors. With Raken, there’s even an in-app messaging feature with customizable channels and push notifications for important updates. Managers can use this to bypass texts and email inboxes that employees may not always check or know how to use efficiently if they don’t use them on a personal basis. Additionally, if many employees do prefer email or other channels, managers can also easily download report information to send as an attachment.

Provide resources

It’s important for managers to provide clear instructions on how to use digital reporting software or any other company-preferred communication technology. Make training available for employees that need it and be willing to allow for some flexibility during adoption periods.

Encourage employees to ask for clarification and take note of common communication issues between age groups. A toolbox talk on good communication practices may be in order.

Assemble age-diverse crews

When creating work schedules, managers may be tempted to group employees in the same age range together. They may think having less of a generational gap will prevent conflict.

However, if older and younger employees rarely interact on the job, companies miss out on significant benefits. Age-diverse crews are better balanced with a variety of skills and experiences. And, according to the global employment service Monster, all age groups can learn positive qualities from each other.

This isn’t limited to trade skills or tips for how to use software and devices. Just by working together, older and younger workers will broaden their horizons and improve their social skills leading to more positive interactions and better communication in general. For example, younger workers can learn about the unexpected benefits of company loyalty from older workers, who in turn may gain a fresh perspective on taking personal time that prevents them from experiencing early burnout.

Encourage employee mentorship

With a manager’s support, the informal sharing of skills that naturally occurs when employees work in age-diverse groups can turn into an official mentorship program.

It’s essential to establish a structure for formal mentorship that can be built into the work schedule. Mentorship activities—which may include any trade-related training or professional education—should take place during normal work hours without impeding daily tasks. Provide clear guidelines and expectations, defining how many hours should be spent mentoring and what criteria need to be met for program completion.

Managers can encourage employees to join their mentorship program by offering incentives. These could be a financial bonus for mentors, a title change for successful mentees, or some other benefit for both parties.

Tailor your management approach for each age group

A one-size-fits-all approach is not the most effective way to manage a group of employees, especially when their ages vary widely. In 2022, the Journal of Leadership in Organizations published a research paper examining management preferences across three generations.

The study determined that baby boomers generally prefer a participative leadership style, with a manager who consults their subordinates and frequently incorporates their opinions in business decisions. They tend to be workaholics who may need encouragement to rest and recharge.

Gen X is value-driven with a focus on family. Workers of this generation are among the most highly educated members of the workforce. They may be skeptical and pragmatic, preferring a manager who can demonstrate what a change of policy or new initiative will do for the employee’s personal success before they buy into it.

Finally, millennials generally prioritize equality and transparency in the workplace. They use modern technology to communicate, and have more diverse preferences for management styles. Some seek to participate in strategy discussions and decision-making processes and others prefer a hands-off approach, focusing on performing their daily tasks.

While Gen Z, the newest generation of workers, was not covered by this study, the Forbes Coaches Council reports this group is especially invested in diversity and inclusion. They seek personal fulfillment and higher education, and prefer a manager who actively works to provide opportunities for both. They may need a supervisor who can help manage their expectations.

Prioritize employee retention

Improving employee retention helps construction companies better manage generational gaps because crew members who have worked together for a significant period of time should naturally develop better work relationships as long as the team environment is supportive.

Managers can promote employee retention and create a healthy team culture by establishing shared goals, implementing collaborative training, and consistently seeking feedback.

Establish shared goals

Instead of focusing solely on individual employee tasks and accomplishments, managers can establish team-wide goals to encourage employees to work together.

Using digital construction production tracking software like Raken, managers can share these goals with employees and help the team collectively monitor progress. Track towards completing a complex project phase on time, improving safety compliance, or any other goal that the entire team contributes towards to inspire collaboration over competition. Celebrate successes and brainstorm ideas for improvement with the crew when targets are missed.

Implement collaborative training

Employees of all ages enjoy opportunities to grow their personal and professional skill sets. Implementing a collaborative team training program as described in a report from Science Direct helps employees feel valued at work and promotes good team culture.

While completing a collaborative training program, teammates bond through shared learning. And all generations can appreciate the company’s investment in their continued education.

Ask employees for feedback

Most employees want to feel seen and heard at work. They want recognition for their accomplishments and acknowledgement of their expertise.

Establish a formal feedback system to encourage employees to share their thoughts on their workloads, company policies, team structure, and more. Managers should be respectful and responsive, doing their best to resolve any concerns or at least clearly address them, and to track when different generations are feeling mis-managed or underappreciated over their younger or older counterparts.

Open communication promotes employee retention because it helps workers feel valued, increasing their job satisfaction.