The Inter-generational Disruption at workplaces

How are the different generational workforces redefining our workplace?

Vidhi Kumar
Director - People Capability 12 Apr 2022

Instructional Design Specialist Dale Carnegie Certified Trainer Hogan Assessments Coach yoga afficionado cleanliness freak storyteller
person in black leather boots lying on brown cardboard boxes
Image Credit

The Inter-generational Disruption at workplaces

How are the different generational workforces redefining our workplace?

Managing the needs of a diverse workforce that may cover a wide range of generations is a challenge for any organisation. In this second blogpost, I’m taking a closer look at what questions this may pose to organisations and what solutions businesses can consider:

This is Part 2 of the Generations Series. Read Part 1 Inter-generational Diversity is getting real and Part 3 Making generational diversity work for you

1. How does my business vision, mission, and values inspire all generations?

One of the key challenges that organisations and HR professionals face today is motivating these conflicting value systems. How does a business define its purpose or vision, which transcends across four generations, while at the same time resonates with each of them and keeps pace with the changing world on the outside to ensure relevance? For traditional businesses, sustenance or profitability was the key driver. With baby boomers and Gen X’ers at the helm, this purpose was aligned to the leaders’ values. Once millennials start to take up leadership roles, the business’ raison d’etre will need to expand. We are already seeing this with several new start-ups like S.café (Fabric created from recycled coffee beans) or AirCarbon (a highly awarded carbon-negative product), which have sustainable growth at the core of their functioning. Their belief in working on meaningful projects, that will bring about resource optimisation is acute and widespread. In their pursuit of well-meaning goals like supporting the environment or reducing their carbon footprint, these businesses are conscious of the role of profitability.

2. How do I measure and reward success or performance for a wide range of generations?

In the current context, it is not sufficient to just define meaningful goals and chart out a path to achieve them. How we measure success is changing drastically across different generations. While a Baby Boomer may still need to refer to long term targets and yearly reviews, it is important for the organisation to make room for other dashboards like OKRs to provide constant navigation to the Millennials and Gen Z. Rewarding and celebrating successes has always played an important part in an employee’s journey. The way these successes are rewarded has changed too and will continue to change as we go through the ‘turnings’ of generations. In an era of constrained opportunities or resources, monetary rewards added a lot of value, as did celebrating loyalty, for example in the form of long service awards. However, organisations are now introducing reward and recognition practices that help an employee connect with their passion or with the larger purpose of the organisation.

3. How can I create meaningful career paths for the different generations?

Other challenges in bridging this inter-generational gap are to create growth paths such that Gen Y doesn’t feel blocked. With fitness levels increasing, Gen X is looking to retire much later. This will create blocks in the traditional corporate ladder, but with organisations opening a plethora of learning and growth opportunities for them – in the shape of lateral movements, secondments, rotations and strategic projects – the millennials are finding their calling.

Organisations also have to be prepared to face another demographic challenge. Millennials are increasingly finding themselves managing older workers, some of whom may be resentful of the same. Managing a multi-generational workforce demands strong leadership, recognition through the organisation that different generations may need different styles of management and a transparent people processes that is progressive and fair. This also calls for sensitisation of the different cohorts on how to work across generations.

4. How can I design inclusive communication processes and messages?

Managing a workforce that is increasingly diverse in age is not an easy task for employers. A 2017 study by Robert Half Management Resources found that communication is the most difficult aspect of workplace management, with up to four generations of employees. Specifically, 30% of executives surveyed said communication skills are the biggest difference between employees across generations. While almost all (90%) of respondents prefer to have colleagues of different ages and believe that a multi-generational workplace is mutually beneficial, according to a new international survey of workers aged 18-65, 81% of them agree that the main difference between generations in the workplace is communication styles. Additionally, the Randstad Work Monitor Q2 2018 also found that communication often breaks intergenerational consistency. Employees of all ages bring unique perspectives, life experiences and approaches to their work. Today’s workforce is made up of different generations, and each has different work habits, expectations, and communication styles. Baby Boomers are more akin to handwritten notes while Gen X prefer telephonic or face to face communication. Millennials are more comfortable with emails and Gen Z takes their digital savviness a step further, by using social media and instant messaging more fluently. This also creates a difference in the nature of messaging and the speed of responses. Being aware that there is no one-size-fits-all approach is critical. Organisations therefore are now being more present in all channels – retaining letters but also increasing their presence on social media.

It is important to look at the positive aspects of working with a multi-generational workforce and overcoming these barriers to seamlessly string together talent. While we are faced with challenges due to the different ways these generations are wired, it opens up several strengths and benefits that can be leveraged. Furthermore, the pandemic triggered changes in the business landscape have created a wider acceptance of a new work order in which age diversity holds a significant part.

The foundation of these differences lies in the widely different values held by each generation and the ecosystem they grew up in. Future-ready organisations today are becoming aware of these differences and beginning to create an environment where these four different generations can thrive and complement each other to create a competitive advantage for the business and their own professional growth.

Despite all the given challenges, it is possible to bring the different generations together and leverage the opportunities that they bring to the workplace. The next blogpost will explore some of the ways in which we can put the different generations together to create a well-oiled machinery.

This is Part 2 of the Generations Series. Read Part 1 Inter-generational Diversity is getting real and Part 3 Making generational diversity work for you