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Multigenerational workforce management

| Sept. 20, 2023

Globally, today most organisations understand the importance of embracing diversity. Formal and informal interventions are typically targeted at achieving inclusion, equity and belonging across gender, race or religious lines. However, an often overlooked factor is generational diversity.

As more people put off retirement until later and companies embrace diversity of thought and newer technologies, we now have multiple generations represented in the workforce and the need to work in harmony across these is paramount to company success. Generational diversity can be complex to manage and requires commitment and adaptability from leaders and employees alike.

Understanding generational differences

Without wanting to oversimplify or reduce generations to only the time periods in which they were born, it’s essential for leaders to recognise the differences among generations and appreciate that each grew up in different cultural, economic and, critically, technological contexts, these have shaped their values, career expectations, optimal modes of knowledge acquisition, output and even work ethic. These differences manifest themselves in myriad ways, e.g. tenure, communication styles or technology adoption.

  • Tenure – younger generations are more likely to change jobs or roles every few years, in an attempt to achieve variety, breadth of scope and increased exposure to business operations. More seasoned employees often see shorter tenure and frequent moves as a lack of commitment, corporate stamina or loyalty.
  • Communication style and cadence – older generations may prefer in-person meetings or sporadic unscheduled phone conversations, while younger ones may do better with email or constant instant messaging. When communication is asynchronous, misunderstandings and misinterpretations can arise.
  • Technology adoption (and, by extension, resistance to or acceptance of change) – older employees may be less willing to adopt new processes due to a lack of familiarity with new technologies and unwillingness to “fix what isn’t broken”.  This perceived resistance may impede innovation and efficiency. On the other hand, younger generations may push for new systems, without fully understanding the rationale behind more traditional methodologies or without seeking to improve existing processes but, rather, to simply do what is new.

Managing multi-generational workforces

The good news for inclusive leaders is that anyone who is comfortable with managing teams on other diversity metrics should be adept at managing generational diversity. Key strategies to consider include flexible communication, ongoing learning and management of unconscious bias.

  • Flexible communication is not as simple as accommodating different generational needs but should focus on encouraging a collaborative and inclusive workplace where employees all feel comfortable to participate and share their views. In order to bridge the communication gaps that develop from varying generational preferences however, leaders need to develop frameworks and guidelines that accommodate different channels, with the understanding that not all channels are optimal for all forms of communication.
  • Ongoing learning must cater to employees of different skill levels and learning preferences and find the balance between traditional methods and digital or interactive learning. Importantly, these opportunities need to be consistent, rather than sporadic and take into account that formal and informal inter-generational knowledge transfer is crucial to diffusing skills throughout an organisation.
  • Managing unconscious bias is always a critical part of achieving equity, inclusion and belonging and it’s no different in the case of generational diversity. Just as good leaders are hyper-aware of inherent biases they have with regard to gender or race so, too, must they become aware of judgements based on age or generation. Stereotypes and assumptions that lead to discrimination need to be called out consciously and dealt with.

 

Ultimately, bridging the workplace generation gap is about encouraging inclusivity and creating an environment where employees of all ages feel valued. It is not about dismissing the older segment of the workforce as out of touch or obsolete nor about making the younger group feel as though they have nothing to offer due to their lack of experience or tenure. Each generation has a valuable contribution to make and working in concert is the ultimate goal.

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