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Nonprofit Strategies for Managing Different Generations in Remote Work

The effects of the pandemic on nonprofit work are extensive, as it's threatened staff and client safety, strained financial resources, and shifted the necessity to using new and different services, to name a few. When these challenges arise, so do conversations about how to keep nonprofit staff connected and engaged in order to continue executing nonprofit missions in the online workspace.

With baby boomers, Generation X, Generation Z, and millennials all coming together to adapt to remote work, examining the generation gaps in staff engagement remains crucial to organization successes. Particularly, different generations are having different issues, such as younger workers having more difficulty working from home. But there are many factors to consider. Let's take a closer look.

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Baby Boomers

In recent years, baby boomers (ages 56 to 76) have had to adapt to a number of changes in the workspace, the most notable being new technology. A 2019 study from the Pew Research Center details that the playing field has leveled significantly when it comes to technology usage across generations. Primarily, older generations are gaining traction in everyday tech use, with 68 percent of baby boomers owning smartphones and 85 percent of them using the Internet on a daily basis. With technology becoming increasingly important in accomplishing nonprofit missions, online or in person, it's crucial to continue to focus on tech literacy between generations.

Despite these advancements, there are still some conflicts when it comes to working through generation gaps in the new online space for nonprofits. Younger generations like millennials and Gen Z grew up in a tech-filled environment compared to boomers. Therefore they've generally learned to prefer different modes of communication. When nonprofits take on new strategies such as streamlining their organization's internal communication, it can help make generation gaps feel less daunting. This gives more room for nonprofits to tackle other challenges that have been created by COVID-19.

Generation X

Generation X (ages 40 to 55) makes up a large part of the workforce. A recent study showed a little over 50 percent of leadership positions in the workforce are held by Gen Xers, with that number to increase as more baby boomers retire. Despite this, Gen X is actually a smaller generation in comparison to the number of leadership positions they represent, with about only 65 million members in comparison to an estimated 77 million boomers and 83 million millennials. In the recent shift to remote work, a study from Yahoo Finance found that more than half of Gen Xers reported feeling more disconnected and less informed about what's going on at their companies. Especially in the nonprofit sector, online connectivity needs to remain a priority in order to better accomplish organization goals and missions.

Generation Y

Generation Y (ages 25 to 39), also known as millennials, are the "digital natives" of the current workforce. Having grown up using technology and incorporating those skills into their places of work, it's no surprise that they clash with older generations over issues such as communication and impatience. What is surprising, however, are the newer problems millennials are facing when it comes to nonprofit remote work.

Since the start of the pandemic, millennials have reported losing a sense of connection and a decrease in productivity levels. They also feel more disconnected from what's happening at their companies than their boomer peers, with 66 percent of millennials citing this disconnect in comparison to 50 percent of boomer respondents.

Another recurring trend seen in a Smartsheet April 2020 survey is the phenomenon of "Zoom fatigue." Fifty-seven percent of millennials reported having trouble getting things done due to the time spent in online meetings. The Society for Human Resource Management explains that these struggles might be related to outside forces. For example, millennials are more likely to have younger kids who need more attention when their parents are working from home. And older generations simply have more experience when it comes to having to work remotely.

Whatever the causes, it's important to build trust intentionally between all generations and nonprofit leadership through transparency tactics such as shared calendars and shared expectation lists. When this is achieved, millennials and other generations can stand to benefit from a more positive and open online work environment, in turn creating a more productive workspace for battling other COVID challenges that nonprofits face.

Generation Z

While millennials are the digital natives of our time, Gen Z (ages 5 to 24) is the "iGen," so accustomed to technology use that it's been a part of their daily lives almost since they were born. Communication issues similar to those seen between boomers and millennials are evident in Gen Z as well: They communicate differently from older generations. Despite being even more fluent in the language of technology, Gen Z faces similar problems with the recent move to remote work, with 82 percent of Gen Z respondents reporting feeling a loss of connectivity from their co-workers and companies. Though the iGen is the newest to the workforce and not yet facing common remote work struggles such as childcare, they seem to be responding to the online workspace style similarly to their millennial peers.

This generation's access to technology was usually within arm's reach. Gen Zers grew up accustomed to instant gratification and communication through the fast access to virtually anything that technology provides: social media, directions, homework help, entertainment, and so on and so forth. It's easy for small aspects of office work such as applause or recognition for tasks big or small to be lost in the transition to online work. So creating an environment that continues to value recognition gives Gen Z employees a space where they can still feel connected and recognized while advancing their nonprofit organization's goals in the online workspace.

Addressing Different Work Styles

A common issue between baby boomers and other generations is the feeling of irrelevance and an inability to communicate across different age groups. So actually giving them an opportunity to share their thoughts with a welcoming audience is a game changer. When the time is taken to actively listen to their opinions and advice, they generally feel more connected with the entirety of the organization. They will be able to better add their thoughts on how to best approach nonprofit missions in the COVID environment.

Forbes cites Gen Xers' strong independence as a result of being coined "the forgotten generation." Another aspect of communication is how a workforce is managed, and giving Gen Xers the space they need to get things done gives nonprofit employees of this generation more success. Micromanaging and constant approval are two things that aren't needed as much with this generation, especially when nonprofit employees are already focused on how they are individually adjusting to carrying out their nonprofit organization's mission in the pandemic world.

Because they grew up in a world with technology at their fingertips in contrast to older generations, a common theme among millennial workers is the expectation of immediacy. It's important to give more recognition to members of this generation in order to keep them more engaged. Maintaining the energy for mobilizing nonprofit missions online starts with battling the disconnect they're feeling. Instant messaging services like Slack provide the ability to handle constant check-ins, as well as provide the opportunity for more candid conversations, which will increase engagement.

Gen Z also grew up immersed in technology, more so than any other generation currently in the workforce. LivePerson conducted a recent survey in which 75 percent of Gen Zers responded that they'd rather have a tough conversation over text instead of on the phone. Therefore, providing new methods of communication for this generation is key. Instant messaging services like Slack also work well with boosting engagement in this generation's nonprofit employees.


Bringing These Strengths and Strategies into the Online Workspace

Focusing on the strengths of each generation and simultaneously bringing those focuses together is crucial to maintaining a productive environment at your nonprofit. Workplace flexibility and simple empathy, especially when it comes to remote meetings, make navigating this new work style easier on everyone. There's also an increased importance of human resources roles, as they tackle new issues COVID-19 created for the entirety of their nonprofit organization.

There are a number of potential benefits to this pandemic-forced virtual workforce policy. Nonprofit retention and the attraction of younger talent (PDF) who value work-life balance and flexible work arrangements are two of them. Along with these are more obvious gains like the cost-effective changes that come with reducing workspace and operation costs.

Nonprofits might also experience more surprising positive benefits from the shift to online work, such as becoming closer to the areas where their missions and goals are more prevalent. This may occur through reevaluating office locations or doling out increased flexibility for employees to be able to work from different locations farther from in-person workspaces. With all of these benefits and strategies combined, the future of nonprofit work can better flourish and expand in the new pandemic reality, no matter the generational differences of employees.

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