Nowadays, it is not uncommon for employees from four or five different generations to work together, given that many people are working to an older age. Yet between generations, we come from different eras and hence, different ways of seeing the world and of working.
These differences can sometimes be a source of inspiration and a wide-range of knowledge between staff. At other times, these differences can be the cause of workplace conflict.
So how can we better manage what can be known as ‘Generational Diversity’?
What is Generational Diversity?
Generational diversity is where there is a range of cohorts of people of similar ages, whose members have been shaped by similar major historical events.
In a workplace we might, for example, have employees who are considered as ‘Baby Boomers’, ‘Generation X’ or from the ‘Silent Generation’, all working in the same environment.Dr Valeria Lo Iacono
In classifying people as a specific generation, the events though must happen when individuals are young.
This is because these are the crucial stages of a person’s development that create the foundation of their approach to life.
Of course, you can change your mind when you get older about things, but you are at your most influenceable when young.
In terms of generations, historical events will have an effect on you from the time when you start remembering things properly (roughly age 7) to the end of your teenage years (roughly age 18).
Workplace Issues Because of Generational Diversity
Take a look at this PowerPoint slide above and see if you recognise any of these comments. Might your colleagues have said one of these expressions? Perhaps you yourself have said some of these?
The comment “this is how it’s always been done” or “this has worked for 40 years so why change it now” are expressions that many of us have certainly heard or said at one time or another. Why change what works right?
Whilst the comment about not wanting to change what has worked for 40 years will often be from one of the older workers in the workplace, employees of all generations and ages can judge others in the workplace unfairly.
A youngster might comment that “s/he will be gone in a year so why bother making an effort” (if the person in question is near retirement age).
Understanding how to manage generational diversity can help in managing the vibe and positiveness of the work environment in which we all work.
So what are the different generations? Let’s take a look below.
What Are the 5 Generations in the Workplace You Will Find
Researchers have identified 5 generations who today can be found working together. This division is based on Strauss and Howe’s generational theory as published in their book Generations from 1991 (later updated in 1997 with The Fourth Turning).
The dates that we use for these generations are approximate as there is not a clear cut between when one generation ends and the next one starts. The dates can vary. Also, the names given to the same generations may vary. We use the most commonly used names.
It is also worth noting that this classification was originally based on American society. So, different parts of the world may use different ways of classifying generations as they will have been affected by different historical events.
The oldest generation that we can still see at work is the so-called Silent Generation or Traditionalists. They were born roughly between 1925 and 1942. Loyalty is a typical trait that this generation has because they were born in one job for life era.
The next generations are the Baby Boomers, born roughly between 1943 and 1960.
Next, there is Generation X, born between 1961 and 1981, followed by Generation Y, more commonly known as Millennials, who were born between 1982 and 1994.
Last, the youngest generation that is entering the workplace at the moment is Generation Z, born roughly between 1995 and 2010. Generation Z has grown up in an era when being your own boss, moving between jobs and having a certain control over your own work are classic traits.
Generation Z and the Silent Generation have certainly been brought up and shaped in very different eras.
Benefits of Generational Diversity in the Workplace
There are of course some enormous benefits to having a multi-generational workforce and this is one key reason why managing generational diversity can be so worthwhile.
It is not just about trying to tackle employee conflicts between generations. Indeed, it can be as much about utilising the benefits you can gain as a manager from the vast range of interests, skills, knowledge and expertise, that you will have available in your company.
Each generation brings something special and this can result overall in:
- Better range of skills and experience for dealing with customers
- Better creativity and innovation
- Decisions based on multiple perspectives
- Create a mentoring environment (I’ll talk more about mentoring below)
Managing Multi-Generational Diversity for a more Cohesive Workplace
The skill as a manager is how to manage this wide range of interests and skills.
How can you, for example, combine the I.T. skills and knowledge of younger workers, with the life experience, and customer service skills and experience of some much older employees?
One fantastic example of a tool you can use for generational diversity is to use mentoring.
Case Study example: Mentoring, Reverse Mentoring and Dual Mentoring
You can create a mentoring environment that really pushes to utilise the amazing skills and experience that your workforce has.
And importantly, there are different ways in which you as a manager can direct the different generations in your company to mentor each other.
Older employees, who have more experience, can mentor younger employees in areas such as customer service and strategic management.
Younger employees can also mentor older employees, in what is called reverse mentoring.
For example, younger employees who are more comfortable with technology can mentor older employees who want to learn it.
Another system for mentoring is called dual mentoring.
In dual mentoring, employees of any age identify something of value that they can teach other people and they also identify something they want to learn from others.
This way, each person is both a mentor and a mentee and HR can match people who want to teach and learn.
Focusing on What All Generations Tend to Want at Work
One of the ways you can also manage different generations in the workplace is to find commonalities between all employees in terms of their motivations.
Almost all employees tend to care about one or many of the following:
- Good pay and benefits
- Some degree of flexibility
- Interesting and meaningful work
- Being valued and appreciated
- Timely and constructive feedback
- The opportunity for career development
- Being treated with respect
- Ethical organization
- Learning and growth opportunities
- Work-life balance
- Clearly defined goals
- Clear communication
Younger generations may be more vocal in asking for these things, but it does not mean that older generations do not appreciate them.
Actually, just about every employee can benefit from these things and will be happy to work for a company that provides them.
The differences can be in how you approach each person, such as the communication style you use. Nevertheless, these are the core needs that all employees appreciate being met, regardless of their differences.
Dr Valeria (Lo Iacono) Symonds
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