The Power of Generational Diversity

Jim Newcomb

You may be thinking that this will be yet another article about how to adapt and modify a workplace, or working arrangements, to accommodate younger workers better. Rest assured, it’s not. It’s about the benefits of generational diversity.

With the entry of the youngest employees into the workforce, and more people choosing to continue working past the traditional retirement age, there are four – in some workplaces, even five – generations showing up to work. That being the case, it’s essential to make the workplace as suitable as possible for everyone. I believe we can go one step further. I think that the best possible workplace sees value in generational diversity. It takes advantage of the many benefits that come as a result.

The Benefits of Generational Diversity

Benefits, you say? Absolutely. With a broader range of experiences and skills that people of different ages bring to the workplace, your organization can generate better ideas from diverse perspectives. The wider diversity allows you to create more mentorship and learning opportunities. It means a better pipeline for leadership talent down the road. Greater age diversity also brings a better ability to recruit others across various generations (when prospective employees see others on your team like them). It gives you a better ability to understand and relate to a broader range of customers.

The five generations present in the current workforce, oldest to youngest, are:

  •   Traditionalists or Silent or Post War, born 1925-1945
  •   Baby Boomers, born 1946-1964
  •   Generation X, born 1965-1980
  •   Millennials (AKA Generation Y), born 1981-2000
  •   Generation Z, born 2001-2020

Generational Stereotypes

Naturally, there are differences between these generations. Their respective view of work ethic and the role of work in their lives, how they communicate, and more. There are many places where you can find information on these differences, so I won’t rehash them here. It’s helpful to put those stereotypes aside. In many cases, those preconceived notions perpetuate the problem. For some organizations, stereotypes limit their access to talent pools if they only consider candidates from certain generations for some roles (only looking at younger employees for positions in technology, for example).

You may be thinking that this will be yet another article about how to adapt and modify a workplace, or working arrangements, to accommodate younger workers better. Rest assured, it’s not. It’s about the benefits of generational diversity.

With the entry of the youngest employees into the workforce, and more people choosing to continue working past the traditional retirement age, there are four – in some workplaces, even five – generations showing up to work. That being the case, it’s essential to make the workplace as suitable as possible for everyone. I believe we can go one step further. I think that the best possible workplace sees value in generational diversity. It takes advantage of the many benefits that come as a result.

4 Ways to Build a Better Workplace

I’d like to leave you with four aspects to consider for organizations that want to build a better workplace for all generations and attract and retain great employees with a wide range of life and work experience.

Employee Value Proposition

When you communicate your brand to prospective employees, does it reflect the range of employees you want to attract? In the photos and videos on your website and social media platforms, is age and other diversity aspects of your current employees apparent? Does your benefit package have the flexibility that can support employees at a wide range of life stages?

Recruiting and Hiring

When you look at your job descriptions and postings, are there hidden forms of age discrimination? Phrases like ‘digital native’ and ‘recent grad’ indicate that a younger employee is preferred. Be cautious with ranges of experience as well – a capped experience range can rule out older employees, and even minimum experience requirements can be problematic because some employees can become proficient more quickly than others. In addition to sending a message you don’t intend, some of these descriptors can be illegal if they constitute age discrimination.

Team Building

When assigning people to work together, do you take advantage of the opportunity to create multigenerational teams? More seasoned employees bring wisdom and the value of lived experience to teams, while less experienced employees bring a fresh perspective and sometimes more efficient ways of solving problems. Rather than assuming that people of similar generations will work best together, intentionally create these cross-generational powerhouses.

Accommodations for Diversity

Many more experienced employees prefer to communicate by phone, in person, or by email. Younger employees generally gravitate to the immediacy of text messaging and readily use the familiar chat format (as in applications like Teams and Slack, for example) to keep in touch with their colleagues and work. Some older employees prefer the routine of regular hours and enjoy being in the physical office. Many younger employees seek the flexibility to work from somewhere other than an office and at times other than traditional work hours. None of these preferences are inherently better or worse, but to what extent can your organization provide the opportunity for all employees to work and communicate in a way that works best for them, making them more productive?

“What unites us is far greater than what divides us.”

-John F. Kennedy

[The American Presidency Project: Address Before the Canadian Parliament in Ottaway.]

Just as among the individuals who make up each generation, there are differences and similarities, and exceptions to every rule. A great workplace celebrates that individuality and looks for ways to unite, connect, and build bridges between everyone.

 

 

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