Bridging the Gap in a Multigenerational Workplace

There are many factors that define who we are: genetics, location, the environment we’re raised in and the people we are surrounded by. One other key factor that we cannot overlook is the generation we’re born into.

For the first time in history, organizations are likely to have five different generations working together – each with their own skills, interests, priorities and expectations. Not surprisingly, this generational diversity is forcing employers to take a new approach to talent management, embracing unique challenges and opportunities of a multigenerational workforce.

“We need to remember across generations that there is as much to learn as there is to teach.” – Gloria Steinem

Age Groups in Today’s Workforce (Reference: Pew Research Center)

Generation Z 2001- 2020 (5%)           

Millennials 1980-1996 (35%)  

Gen Xers 1965-1979 (33%)

Baby Boomers 1946-1964 (25%)

Traditionalists 1925-1945 (2%)

75% say the 2007-2009 recession is the main cause delaying retirement. – Ryan Jenkins, Next Generation Speaker

First, there’s Generation Z, who are the newest members to enter the workforce and who have never known the world without the internet. Then there are millennials, the largest group in the workforce today, who bring with them a sense of “purpose” to the workforce and have high expectations for career growth and development. Next there’s Generation X. They are self-reliant and juggling their jobs, childcare and caring for their elderly parents. The baby boomers follow with a strong belief in collaboration and teamwork. And finally, the fifth and smallest group are the traditionalists, who prioritize financial security at work and are fiercely loyal to employers.

These generational qualities, although broad, represent five generations of people raised in different cultures, economies and work landscapes providing a peek into the vast range of values and priorities employers are expected to satisfy today.

75% of managers agree managing multi-generational teams is a challenge. – Ryan Jenkins, Next Generation Speaker

Today’s workplace is vastly different from what it was just a few decades ago. Indeed, technology has played the biggest role in shaping today’s offices: from the way we communicate with one another to the ever-growing list of distractions present on the job (hello, social media) to the rising trend of teleworking. However, the majority of people who embody the workplace – the Millennials, Generation Xers, and Baby Boomers – have arguably played just as substantial a role in shaping it as well. Each generation has left its mark, and today’s emerging trends are simply a byproduct of the cultural shift created by the modern-day workforce.

“The beauty of the world lies in the mixing, managing, acceptance and appreciation of generational differences.” – Ty Howard

What is the Generational Gap in the Workplace?

The generation gap is the difference of outlook, opinions, beliefs, skills, attitudes and behaviors among the older generations and the young generations.

Business leaders today face more diversity in the workforce than ever before, particularly generational diversity. With this growing trend comes the challenge of figuring out how to create a workplace where engagement, loyalty and productivity are high, despite the differences among those demographic groups. Business leaders have an important role in creating common ground across their teams, helping them leverage their collective strengths.

“Companies need to create and execute integrated talent and learning strategies to invest in, engage, retain and develop their workforce in innovative ways. It’s that simple. Though in practice, it’s much more complicated.” - Michael McGowan, BPI Group

5 Recommendations for Engaging a Multigenerational Workforce (Reference: IBM Institute for Business Value)

  1. Focus on the individual
  • Managing a multigenerational workforce entails seeing people as individuals, not generational stereotypes.
  • Leverage digital natives’ capabilities but be mindful of preferences and skill sets that transcend generational clichés.
  • To recruit, retain and grow top talent, employ robust workforce analytics, policies and programs that accommodate individual career aspirations.

How to get started:

  • Map a talent strategy in phases.
  • Assess the current state, set a baseline.
  • Identify improvements, tools and analytics needed to execute the strategy and measure the results.
  1. Foster a collaborative culture
  • Tomorrow’s leaders prefer collaboration, consensus building.
  • Organizations need a collaborative work culture, incentives and collaboration technologies/tools.
  • As the workplace becomes more vital, deploy collaboration tools that leverage the latest in cloud and mobile.

How to get started:

  • Appoint a “Collaboration Czar.”
  • Build a team of enthusiastic employees from all parts of the business.
  • Develop a strategy for improved collaboration and pilot new programs.
  1. Make customer experience a priority
  • Conduct a thorough analysis of the experience customers have with your organization.
  • Be transparent with employees about strengths and weaknesses.
  • Work collaboratively across the business to develop solutions for improvements.

How to get started:

  • Map the customer journey from the customer’s point of view. Detail all the interactions that touch your technologies.
  • Determine problem spots, why they exist and do a risk-benefit analysis to determine a plan of action.
  1. Get everyone on board
  • Nearly half of respondents said they aren’t confident they understand the fundamental strategies of their business.
  • Keep employees in the loop with easy access to company information, mentoring and collaboration tools and programs.
  • Ensure employees understand how their job supports the organization’s mission – an engaged workforce delivers a better customer experience.

How to get started:

  • Use online survey tools to test employees’ understanding of business fundamentals; ensure anonymity.
  • Form a task force across the organization to address weaknesses; develop pilots for improvement.
  • Be transparent, share progress updates with employees.
  1. Look within
  • Leaders may be overestimating how well they’re connecting with their staff.
  • Leaders need to take an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Leaders should ask themselves what they are doing personally to inspire employee confidence, show an interest in employees’ professional development and communicate with clarity and transparency.

How to get started:

  • Leaders ought to look at their calendar.
  • In the past six months, how much time did they spend celebrating team successes, conducting roundtables or mentoring?
  • Plan creative ways to connect more, in person and virtually.

Conclusion

Taking on the challenge of engaging a multigenerational workforce is certainly a difficult, critical and strategic undertaking, but it is doable.

When managing multi-generational work environments, contrasting views of the different generations don’t have to result in conflict and disagreement. Fostering a work environment where differences are valued and respected instead of punished or downplayed can help to bridge the generation gap.