This is the first time in history when four generations coexist in the workplace. Historic changes, such as longer life expectancies, changing work ethics and the Great Recession have motivated - or required - many to work past 65. By 2020, you may see five generations working under the same roof.

“Things are a little clogged up in the workplace right now,” says Tina Dittmar, aquatics supervisor for the city of Laguna Niguel, Calif., and a seminar leader on the dynamics of the multigenerational workforce. “Generation X’ers and millennials can’t advance because there are so many generations in the workforce.”

This situation has the potential for conflict and misunderstandings. But it could just as easily go the other way. A multigenerational staff comes with many talents, experience levels and perspectives baked in. Company leaders can harness these attributes to the advantage of their businesses.

First, it is critical to understand where each generation is coming from. Dittmar offers a quick snapshot of each.

While most of the Silent Generation (born between 1925 and 1942) is retired, a number continue to work because they like it or the economy required it.

“They’re company owners or former owners,” Dittmar says. “They definitely are land-line people. They’ll get into cell phones and some social media, facilitated by their grandchildren, so they can keep in touch with them. They don’t appreciate the openness of the digital generation; they don’t appreciate people living out loud like that.”

Their children, the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) are starting to retire. But as we know, many remain on the job for financial or personal reasons. Dittmar describes this generation as optimistic and wanting to “have it all.” They communicate via land line and cell phones.

Generation X (1965-1980) tends to be skeptical, ambitious and serious about work/life balance, she says. For them, cell phones are a given. But they suffer a disadvantage in the workplace. “[They’re] stuck because the boomers are not leaving,” Dittmar observes. “They’re between the boomers and the millennials.”

Millennials (1981-1999), or Generation Y, rely on mobile devices, texting and social media for entertainment and as communication tools. Dittmar describes them as realistic and confident.

Finally, that fifth generation — Generation Z (2000-2017) — is peeking around the corner. Tech-smart and with a short attention span, this generation will be entering the workforce by 2020.

With this information in mind, here are some tips from our sister publication, Pool & Spa News, to help keep operations running smoothly amidst generational differences .

  • Adapt communication channels - but not too much.

As the workforce grows younger, many consider phone calls and in-person meetings to be a thing of the past. However, others find some of the newer communication platforms to be unsuitable for business.

To distribute a message, some managers will send emails and distribute paper memos for those who prefer that format. But many are less enthusiastic about texting, even though it’s a favorite of many younger workers. “Text gets lost,” says Dustin Watters, vice president of construction at Las Vegas-based Watters Aquatech. “Even if I’m trying to talk to an employee, I can’t ‘cc’ you on a conversation if we’re texting. With an email chain, I can verify things.”

  • Respond to different values

Striking a work/life balance is important for everyone, but how one does it may depend somewhat on their generation.

“The challenge for me is that Boomers do whatever tasks are needed — we’ll work all night,” says Debra Smith, president of Pulliam Pools in Dallas/Fort Worth. “Other generations will not sacrifice for work. They’ll work all day, yes, but will leave on time. They’ll resent you if you try to force them to stay.”

And she’s noticed that the generations view vacation and sick time differently, with boomers letting hours accumulate whereas younger generations use their hours immediately.

Then there’s the issue of how a company can best express its appreciation to a multigenerational staff for outstanding work. For some recipients, money talks; for others, a promotion or flexible hours is most appreciated.

There is even a difference in how the generations wish to receive monetary rewards: Boomers often prefer bonuses or cash gifts, while younger workers seek raises. “One size doesn’t fit all, and hasn’t for a long time,” Smith observes.

  • Also learn about the person

While it’s useful to understand differences among generations, avoid making generalizations or snap judgments based on one’s birth year. Consider the individual. “You have to figure out what makes people tick,” Watters says. “Some want raises, some are motivated by money, or some want team collaboration.”

In the end, the best reward of all — and a key to maintaining a smooth operation — might be as simple as giving respect to the different generations, appreciating their abilities and contributions.