Generational diversity in the workplace can be of great benefit to any business. Multiple generations can bring in business expertise from multiple perspectives and can make internal knowledge sharing much simpler. Today’s workforce has the greatest gender diversity and age diversity in a very long time. Most medium to large businesses will have employees between the age groups of late teens (around 17-years), and retiring age (around 70-years).
To manage generational diversity in the workplace can be challenging. Each generation has distinct characteristics, needs, and challenges, and finding a balance between these can be difficult. Generational differences can also be an advantage if managed correctly.
The term generational diversity can be defined as having a multigenerational workforce where people from different generations work together. Having older generations interacting and working together with the youngest generation in the workplace makes activities like succession planning much easier and tends to bring down cases of age discrimination when generational diversity is the norm.
In modern times people are needing to start working earlier in their lives, and work longer in order to make ends meet. People are also living longer due to our medical system which has resulted in people being able to work until later in their lives.
Generally speaking an office tends to have five generations in their ranks at any given time.
The oldest generation would be the Silent Generation who would have been born between 1928 and 1945. Baby Boomers are next, and would have been born between 1946 and 1964. Gen X are the middle generation and were born between 1965 and 1980. Millennials, or Gen Y were born between 1981 and 1996. And the youngest generation is Gen Z who were born between 1997 and 2012.
Understanding generational diversity can be beneficial as each generation would have their own communication styles, work culture, different values, and expect different compensation options. Miscommunication and conflict can be common in a multigenerational workforce, but the right management can use differences to their advantage and manage problems efficiently.
Only 2% of the workforce comprises of the silent generation. This generation did not have access to technology in their early life. This means that people from this generation had to overcome huge obstacles in their lives, having lived through the great recession, to get where they are today, and to master modern technology to an extent to where they can continue working into the tech savvy age.
About 33% of the workforce is made up of Gen X. This is the generation that has seen the change from the analytical age to the digital age, so they are generally better adapted to change. Gen X also tends to prioritize work-life balance above other elements. They also tend to be more cautious about the future than younger generations. Gen X likes learning opportunities in the workplace and like to keep building their skills throughout their lives.
Baby boomers make up around 25% of the modern workforce. This generation wants stability and safety and they generally stay with the same company for decades and are resistant to burnout. This generation highly values authority and take their work more seriously than younger generations. Baby boomers are also more accustomed to formal communication and phone calls because they did not always have access to today’s communication channels.
Generation Y makes up 35% of the current workforce which is more than any other generation. Unlike previous generations they are the first generation who grew up with technology. They have grown with technology from its early days, unlike the two younger generations, who are used to modern technology being the norm. Their status as digital natives can be beneficial to a business as they can help to create inclusive culture and communication channels in age diverse teams.
Generation Z only comprises 5% of the workforce and are the most global generation due to their marked tech-savvy and intrinsic motivation to experience as much as possible. Gen Z has never existed in a world where technology was lacking and it is widely accepted that they would struggle to adapt to a world without smartphones and social media.
This generation might drive innovation which is positive for a company’s success. Their communication preferences are digital and many are not comfortable making phone calls. Some of the major generational differences exist between millennials and other generations in terms of their value for financial security over job security.
Despite the many benefits associated with generational diversity in the workplace, there are also generational differences that can result in age discrimination known as ageism. As a result the Age Discimination in Employment Act was passed in 1967 and protects older generations in the workplace from unfair age based assumptions that lead to discrimination.
The past few years, however, has seen some problems in the implementation of this act to protect corporate diversity. It is still common to see:
Although it is commonly believed that older individuals are not tech-savvy this is not always the case and for many the learning of new skills and keeping up with technology is important. Many are still passionate about their work and excel at it. These kinds of assumptions can create tension between generations. It is not uncommon for older people to feel under appreciated and outside of a generationally diverse workforce.
Here are some advantages to having older generations on the workforce:
It is important to remember that generational diversity in the workplace can result in ageism in either direction. It can be older individuals discriminating against younger adults as well. There is a general feeling that younger employees are entitled and lazy. It is also not uncommon for younger colleagues to be denied time off during holidays because they do not have children.
There are several ways that generational diversity in the workplace can be beneficial to a company.
Diversity in the workplace is all the rage, and what better way to achieve diversity than through generational diversity. A multi-generational workforce can improve a company’s branding.
Having generational diversity, or even gender diversity in the workplace is an advantage over competitors. Young employees learn from older colleagues and grow with the business. If there is a strong talent pipeline there are also more opportunities for internal promotions.
With generational diversity informing different perspectives, creative solutions to problems are a given. Various life experiences will have an impact on how people deal with problems.
The development of young workers takes time and is resource intensive. A lack of generational diversity means that there are no leaders who can train the future generation. While having only older employees means that there is no one to train to succeed them. The ideal to strive for is a well balanced multi-generational workforce. A succession plan should account for generational diversity as not everyone are well suited to leadership positions.
A generational diverse staff provide clearer insights into different target audiences. There will be someone that everyone can relate to and find traction with. Different generations can provide a deeper and more personal understanding for any customer base.
There are many challenges associated with generational diversity, some of the biggest challenges associated with diversity in the workplace will be discussed here.
Because each generation prefers a different communication style and this may cause miscommunications it is important to understand any communication gaps that many exist among generations in your office. Mature employees might not like reporting to digital communication as their younger colleagues might. These different communication styles can even lead to a lack of adequate communication in the workplace. A manager would need to ensure that important messages are sent on various communication channels.
Take note of what types of communication each generation favors:
People from different generations have different expectations in the workplace. They could expect different work processes or training methods, etc. Regardless of expectations, it should still be possible that all employees can get on board with business goals.
Some workers are deeply impacted by their surroundings and the atmosphere in the office, but older workers tend to prefer routines, predictability, and familiarity over pleasant surroundings. Gen Y likes a stimulating environment that encourages creativity. Gen Z employees are likely to prefer flexibility and remote working where an older generation might be more comfortable with the familiar working times and arrangements. The key to keeping all the generations happy is to provide options that people can choose from. This will likely keep both younger and older workers happy.
A multigenerational workforce can be deeply impacted by stereotypes, whether true or not, a stereotype is always bad and highly likely to lead to conflict. Microaggressions in the workplace are common in certain parts of the world and can have a significant impact on an employee’s experience at work.
Some common stereotypes include:
Any generational stereotypes have the power to destroy productivity at work. They make collaboration almost impossible and can lead to extreme tensions.
There are several ways that the generational gap in the workplace can be managed.
When hiring, do not limit potential candidates. Attracting a diverse workforce requires a diverse hiring process. You will likely not source Gen Z workers the same way you would a baby boomer. Ensure that your job ads do not indicate anything that might suggest a preferred applicant age. Take focus away from years of experience and rather pay attention to competencies.
No benefit package will ever suit every employee and it is not advised that management make assumptions about what an employee might need. Things that baby boomers want likely will not appeal to Gen Z members. Even when workers want the same benefit they require it for different reasons. A younger employee might want flexibility that allows for study time where an older employee wants flexibility because they are planning on retiring. Specific benefits should be offered to all employees. A survey is a good way to establish what your employees need.
Benefits that appeal to different generations often include:
Training is a critical part of anyone’s professional career, but few companies ever invest in training opportunities. Training programs can prevent generational conflict through creating awareness of generational differences and how to be sensitive to coworkers. Employees also need to know how to report transgressions and what kind of transgressions need to be reported. New recruits need to learn the company culture. While all diversity training can be beneficial to a business, generational diversity on its own creates a sense of collaboration between everyone from Gen Z to Baby boomers.
Despite all of the differences that can exist in a multigenerational workforce there can be a surprising number of similarities as well. Employees likely want to feel connected with their colleagues, so finding common ground is often simpler than a manager might imagine.
Imparting information through various communication channels will ensure that all communication styles are covered and everyone in the organization are comfortable and feel included. Also encourage employees to vary their communication occasionally so that they are exposed to various channels.
Make sure that the company culture that is in place allows employees to be comfortable sharing information with managers and approaching management should there be a need. Building relationships with the workforce makes management simpler.
Business leaders are responsible for conflict resolution in the workplace. It is always best to address conflicts as soon as they arise and to try and resolve them in a way that addressed both sides fairly. Expectations in the face of conflict need to be made clear and conflict resolution policies need to be available to all employees. Maintain that differences exist and different opinions are good for business, but respect should always be the foundation of communication.
Younger colleagues are eager to develop their skills and grow as much as they can. A good way to address this need is a mentorship program. This enables multiple generations to share their experiences, skills, and expertise with each other. Naturally, this reduces the skill gap among staff. It can also help to form strong bonds between employees, makes engagement easier, and improves teamwork in a business.
Furthermore, employees learn more about each generation and can learn to understand the strengths that each generation brings to the company. Different generations can begin to form close bonds and this results in a more productive and positive work environment. Younger workers can teach previous generations about new technologies and can provide insights into preferences among younger generations in return for knowledge shared with them by older colleagues. This results in mutual gain for all involved in mentorship programs.