Generational Diversity in the Workplace

Written by
Barbara Banks

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For the first time ever, we have a mix of five generations adding diverse perspectives into the global workforce.  This diversity of age means companies have an opportunity like never before to embrace intergenerational learning, but it doesn’t happen accidentally.

There is a common misconception that dealing with different generations in the workplace requires lots of conflict management.  In reality, however, understanding generational differences in the workplace is no different than any other approach to creating an inclusive working environment.

To achieve generational diversity, it’s important to understand the psychographics of each of these generations — what are their strengths, preferences, and work styles?  From there, companies can begin building inclusive hiring practices, developing the work culture, and managing workplace generational gaps.*

Because each generation came of age in a distinct and unique era, each has its own perspective on such critical business issues as leadership, communication, problem-solving, and decision making.

  1. Generation Z

Members of Generation Z were born between 1997 and 2012.  Raised as digital natives, they may view smartphones and other devices as essential.  Compared to previous generations, they can be more focused on the essence of a person — funny, witty, smart — versus issues like race or ethnicity, largely due to how technology has shaped their relationships.  Student debt, which shapes both workplace choices and compensation needs, is a significant concern for Gen Z.

  1. Millennials

The largest generation in the current workforce, Millennials, were born between 1981 and 1996.  Many started working during a recession, which has greatly affected how they view their long-term careers.  They grew up as the internet revolutionized society, and they’re more comfortable communicating digitally than previous generations.  More than 9 out of 10 Millennials own smartphones and tend to adopt new social media platforms more quickly than older generations.  In the workplace, members of this generation may prefer to send instant messages, email, or texts rather than walk across the room to chat with someone, if only for efficiency purposes.*

  1. Generation X

Squeezed between the baby boomers and Millennials, Gen Xers were shaped by the evolution of personal computers.  This generation, born between 1965 and 1980, is generally more educated than previous generations.  Viewed as self-reliant and hardworking, Gen Xers are often viewed as fiscally responsible.

  1. Baby boomers

Born after World War II through 1964, baby boomers have long been known for their strong work ethic and goal-centric tendencies.  They tend to be hardworking and value face-to-face interaction.  They didn’t grow up using computers, although they will use technology for job-related functions.

  1. Silent generation

The oldest generation currently in the workforce is the silent generation, born between 1928 and 1945.  They grew up without today’s technology and many other modern conveniences younger generations take for granted.  Many members of this generation have overcome adverse economic conditions in their lifetimes and thus have established diligent financial habits.  They’re hard workers with strong core values.

People of different ages bring different viewpoints to the table, helping to increase innovation and creative problem-solving.  Inter-generational mentoring (and reverse mentoring) can lead to rewarding career development and increase employee retention.  Generational diversity can also help companies better understand a diverse customer base.  Most brands serve an audience of all ages.  Therefore recruiting a workforce that reflects this generational diversity can improve marketing, product development, and customer service.

Although there are important differences between the generations, they also have important commonalities.  Successful organizations are leveraging these similarities to ensure that leaders not only understand these similarities but create work environments that support them.

  • People of all ages view work as a vehicle for personal fulfillment and satisfaction, not just for a paycheck; yet, they want compensation that aligns with the current marketplace.
  • Workplace culture is important to the job satisfaction of all employees.  For all generations, the highest indicator of satisfaction is to feel valued on the job.
  • More than 70% of all employees want a supportive work environment where they are recognized and appreciated. *
  • Career development is a high priority.  But while three-quarters of employers also rated it highly, only half of employees give their organizations good marks in this area.
  • Flexibility is important.  More than seven out of ten workers would like to be able to set their own hours, as long as the work gets done.

These are the values to keep in mind when creating a workplace culture that celebrates generational diversity.  To create an inclusive culture, employers need to educate employees.  Ensure that they understand the differences in history and communication styles for each generation.  Help them reject the stereotypes and misinformation about generations perpetuated by media while at the same time understanding that every generation has developed their worldview in relation to the world they grew up in.

Would you like to learn more about working with different generations in the workplace? Contact us today to hear about the training we offer in this area.

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