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The Multigenerational Workforce—an Overlooked Source of Diversity?

Today’s workforce consists of five different generations, each with unique perspectives and experiences. Read this blog for some tips for managing a multigenerational workforce.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Accessibility (DEIBA) have become an indispensable part of our (professional) lives. It is impossible to imagine a company culture without some kind of a focus on the celebration of differences, whether that relates to gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any of the other unique characteristics which make us human. At SHL, we see clients invest greatly in projects to attract and onboard young graduates, to create a more gender-balanced leadership pipeline, or to roll out an assessment process that is fair and objective for neurodiverse participants. Not that often, however, are we confronted with questions related to the widening age range of employees and how to include this into a coherent culture. While it may be less sexy to talk about generational diversity, handling it well could boost the organization’s productivity, performance, and retention.

Ignorant Boomers vs Snowflake Gen Z?

The dysfunctional multigenerational workforce is hyped via social media and can perpetuate negative stereotypes. Gen Z gets the blame for the demise of work ethics and falls apart when receiving feedback. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers work 18 hours per day and still believe Office XP is cutting-edge technology. Obviously.

These animated conversations about generational differences have always existed but it is a fact that the age diversity of the current workforce is unprecedented. People are living longer, healthier lives, they cannot or simply do not want to retire. This results in a workforce makeup of potentially five different generations—five groups of people who grew up in fundamentally different times. But will this blend of age groups cause increased tension on the work floor? Do generations need to be treated and managed differently? If generational differences exist in our minds, the negative perception of multigenerational workforces can impact the way we behave and interact at work.

The discussion about “generation” as a concept and the significance of the differences between the people that fall into the associated age ranges continues. There is plenty of scientific research out there dealing with this topic. These days, however, inspired by popular media, conversations about generational differences and multigenerational workplaces are too often reduced to a list of stereotypes, that are positioned as being scientifically proven facts.

If generational differences exist in our minds, the negative perception of multigenerational workforces can impact the way we behave and interact at work.

Managing a Multigenerational Workforce

So…how to deal with people who supposedly do not mix?

  1. Step away from the generalization and bias

    The assumptions we make about other generational groups and even the way we think others see us can hold us back from truly connecting with each other. These generalizations could hinder collaboration, generate miscommunication, or have undesired implications for how people are managed. If we truly believe that older employees are not committed anymore, why bother giving them stretch assignments?

    Setting up open, respectful, and safe dialogues to increase awareness is a way to battle any kind of stereotyping. Also powerful is bringing forward experiences that debunk false stereotypes. By for example putting the spotlight on a technologically innovative solution created by an older employee many perceptions may already change within the organization. Or by recognizing successful collaborations of multigenerational teams, pairing up between generations will be stimulated.
  2. Leverage the differences and bridge potential gaps

    …and use the broad spectrum of experience, skills, ideas, and ways of working as an advantage. Diversity of thought and experience of individuals, throughout the generations, can be a powerful tool to drive personal and organizational success. In order to maximize this advantage, it is crucial to give a voice to people of all generations and to foster (intergenerational) interactions.

    a. Build a culture of mutual (reverse) mentoring and knowledge sharing

    As older, more experienced employees have built up a massive amount of knowledge, skills, and career insights over the years, it is crucial this is passed on before they retire. But mentoring also works the other way around, by setting up an alliance in which a more junior employee will share skills, expertise, and knowledge in areas that are less familiar to the more senior employee (e.g., technology). Not only will both types of mentoring shorten the mentee’s learning curve, but they will also build bridges and understanding between the different generations.

    b. Set up multigenerational project teams

    Age-diverse project teams are valuable because they bring together people with different sets of abilities, skills, and levels of experience, resulting in a multitude of perspectives and approaches to a problem or complex situation. This can be a breeding ground for more innovative ideas, alternative ways of achieving results, and more open-mindedness towards each other.

    c. Establish common ground

    A common purpose unites people and reinforces the perception of “we”. Defining and emphasizing shared goals shows each member of the team, regardless of their age, what they are aiming for.
  3. Setting up more age diversity-related initiatives

    Why not open up apprenticeship programs or high-potential initiatives to more mature applicants? Or why hold back from including a 20-something employee in a Leadership Development program? Gaining insights into people’s actual strengths, development areas, drivers and needs is key when rolling out these kinds of inclusion initiatives. By keeping age out of the picture as much as possible and focusing on what really matters in recruitment and developmentskills and potential, a broader and more diverse pool of candidates or employees becomes available.

The benefits of a multigenerational workforce do not just magically appear after creating age-diverse teams. It takes effort and fostering a thriving multigenerational workforce certainly has its challenges. However, with a rapidly aging population (in several major economies across the globe) and the scarcity of talent in mind, we might as well embrace the multigenerational workforce as an opportunity, and not see it as a burden.

Contact us and learn how we can help you build diverse teams that are ready for challenges

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Kirsten Vandeurzen

Kirsten Vandeurzen has more than 10 years of experience in setting up and managing strategic Talent Acquisition / Management projects for a broad portfolio of global organizations. Based on her daily work in supporting customers to attract, select and develop employees across industries, she shares her learnings on how to deal with the current opportunities and risks for today’s workforce.

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