WNA Blog

Thu 25 Feb 2021

Making Generational Diversity Work For You


Human Resources and Career Advice
For the first time in history, there are five generations in the workplace.

People are living longer, healthier lives, and many are delaying their retirement beyond age 65.

This is a unique development for the 21st century workplace, and a novel challenge for today’s leaders and HR managers – but also a real opportunity for businesses to grow and outstrip their competitors.

 

 

 

As an ardent Diversity and Inclusion advocate, to me, embracing generational differences is just another facet of establishing diversity and inclusion, and another way to enable the positives that come from a diverse and inclusive workplace.

What are the generations

As a starting point it is important to understand how the generations are grouped and named:

  • Traditionalists—born 1925 to 1945
  • Baby Boomers—born 1946 to 1964
  • Generation X—born 1965 to 1980
  • Millennials—born 1981 to 2000
  • Generation Z—born 2001 to 2020

Working with employees who were born well before World War II plus those who have never known life without the internet can be a challenge for leaders and HR managers. Employers need to grapple with very different motivators for these different groups.

I outline at the end of this article their different world views, characteristics, communication preferences and drivers – I encourage you to read this section, it makes for interesting and surprising reading – and may offer some useful insights into what really engages and encourages your staff.

It’s all about collaboration

Beyond being politically correct or complying with legal obligations, embracing generational diversity and collaboration provides real opportunity to drive your company forward and put you ahead of the pack. There are a number of articles that outline some tips and hints on how to communicate to and motivate these very disparate groups but where I see the greatest possibilities are when the generations genuinely collaborate.

The concept of the potential of inter-generational collaboration was reaffirmed by a recent meeting I had as a Gen Xer, with a young woman born in 2000, a Gen Zer. Our initial small talk strayed into where and what she was studying. We discussed degrees, career goals, and I mentioned that in my experience careers paths were often not linear. I also reassured her that just because she did not have everything mapped out at the ripe old age of 20, there was nothing to worry about.

Ms Gen Z, in return outlined that although she did not have everything sorted, she was quite financially literate and commercially savvy as were most of her female friends, and this knowledge base had been encouraged by school and university educators.

I found this emerging trend for young women to develop fiscal literacy greatly reassuring – and a promising skill base to bring to the workplaces of the future. In previous organisations, I have championed the need for women to develop greater financial awareness in order to be empowered with choices that come from having their own financial independence.

Too often, women push financial responsibility to their partners, only to find themselves severely disadvantaged when there is a relationship breakdown or death of a spouse.

So, from this inter-generational encounter, Gen X and Gen Z both gained a better understanding of the other’s worldview, became better informed and knowledgeable, plus were ultimately buoyed by the experience – and this from one chance meeting – imagine if we had actually planned to collaborate, what we could achieve?

Three methods to encourage cross-generational collaboration

If you do want to plan some collaborations with your staff to harness the collective knowledge that spans over 90 years, here are some options to help the age groups learn from each other:

  • Create cross-generational mentoring: Allocate each employee a corresponding partner from another age group and encourage them to meet often to share knowledge – and the subject matter can be beyond the workplace – the important aspect is the sharing of different perspectives.
  • Establish collaborative projects: Creating teams of varied ages helps reduce bias and surfaces the skill sets of employees of different generations.
  • Go off-site: Team activities off- site help employees get to see each other as individuals rather than age-based stereotypes.

Employers need to keep abreast of what employees need and want to stay engaged and motivated at work – because happy employees, equal happy customers and a happy business.

Ultimately, by using all the benefits that age diversity can provide, you can boost your rating among employees and customers, and be a standout from the pack.

Generations in the workplace – drivers and motivators*

Traditionalists: Born 1925–1945

  • Dependable, straightforward, tactful, loyal
  • Shaped by: The Great Depression, World War II, radio and movies
  • Motivated by: Respect, recognition, providing long-term value to the company
  • Communication style: Personal touch, handwritten notes instead of email
  • Worldview: Obedience over individualism; age equals seniority; advancing through the hierarchy
  • Employers should: Provide satisfying work and opportunities to contribute; emphasize stability

Baby Boomers: Born 1946–1964

  • Optimistic, competitive, workaholic, team-oriented
  • Shaped by: The Vietnam War, civil rights movement, Watergate
  • Motivated by: Company loyalty, teamwork, duty
  • Communication style: Whatever is most efficient, including phone calls and face to face
  • Worldview: Achievement comes after paying one’s dues; sacrifice for success
  • Employers should: Provide them with specific goals and deadlines; put them in mentor roles; offer coaching-style feedback
  • Stats:
    • 65% of baby boomers plan to work past age 65
    • 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age every day

Generation X: Born 1965–1980

Flexible, informal, sceptical, independent

  • Shaped by: The AIDs epidemic, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dot-com boom
  • Motivated by: Diversity, work-life balance, their personal-professional interests rather than the company’s interests
  • Communication style: Whatever is most efficient, including phone calls and face to face
  • Worldview: Favouring diversity; quick to move on if their employer fails to meet their needs; resistant to change at work if it affects their personal lives
  • Employers should: Give them immediate feedback; provide flexible work arrangements and work-life balance; extend opportunities for personal development
  • Stats:
    • Gen Xers make up the highest percentage of start-up founders at 55%
    • Gen Xers will outnumber baby boomers by 2028

Millennials: Born 1981–2000

  • Competitive, civic-minded, open-minded on diversity, achievement-oriented
  • Shaped by: Columbine, 9/11, the internet
  • Motivated by: Responsibility, the quality of their manager, unique work experiences
  • Communication style: IMs, texts, and email
  • Worldview: Seeking challenge, growth, and development; a fun work life and work-life balance; likely to leave an organization if they don’t like change
  • Employers should: Get to know them personally; manage by results; be flexible on their schedule and work assignments; provide immediate feedback
  • Stats:
    • By 2025, millennials will comprise 75% of the global workforce
    • About 15% of millennials age 25–35 live at home with their parents

Generation Z: Born 2001–2020

  • Global, entrepreneurial, progressive, less focused
  • Shaped by: Life after 9/11, the Great Recession, access to technology from a young age
  • Motivated by: Diversity, personalization, individuality, creativity
  • Communication style: IMs, texts, social media
  • Worldview: Self-identifying as digital device addicts; valuing independence and individuality; preferring to work with millennial managers, innovative co-workers, and new technologies
  • Employers should: Offer opportunities to work on multiple projects at the same time; provide work-life balance; allow them to be self-directed and independent
  • Stats:
    • 40% of Gen Z wants to interact with their boss daily or several times each day
    • 84% of Gen Z expects their employer to provide formal training

*Generational profile information sourced from Purdue University


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