Inter-generational Diversity is getting real

Unravelling the four generations in our workplace

Vidhi Kumar
Director - People Capability 07 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

Inter-generational Diversity is getting real

Unravelling the four generations in our workplace

The past few months have kept HR folks and business managers amused! Our employees – primarily Millennials and Gen Z – moved out of jobs, sought sky-high pay hikes, and then some started to trickle back to their previous organisations. With this boomerang, the focus has also moved to certain generations at workplace that demonstrated this behaviour more than others. For the first time in modern history, four different generations are at the workplace together. The Baby Boomers have just begun retiring but the other three are still very active in the workplace dynamics.

Owing to a greater focus on overall wellness, technological advances in medical sciences and a more active lifestyle of employees, Baby Boomers are retiring later than any of the previous generations did. On the other hand, Gen Z is entering the workforce before any other generation has. They are breaking the traditional moulds of education and are beginning to work even before completing their graduation in the form of internships, secondments or moonlighting assignments. In this three-part blog series, I hope to highlight that managing the needs of this diverse workforce may be challenging, but if handled well, it can help the organisation reap multiple benefits. First, let’s unwrap these four generations and what they bring to workplaces.

A lot has been written about the differences between the four generations – their values, beliefs and worldviews. As a construct, ‘generation’ is complex to unravel. As a sociological construct, it has been loosely defined as

“an identifiable group that shares birth years, age, location and significant life events at critical developmental stages”

(- Betty Kupperschmidt, Multigeneration Employees: Strategies for Effective Management, 2000).

Generations are largely moulded by historical and economic events too. Strauss and Howe therefore see generations as a cohort of people born within a 20–30-year phase or ‘turnings’. According to them, historical events have repeatedly shaped the values and beliefs of a generational group, which they have categorised into four distinct archetypes – Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist. Together these four archetypes manifest in the form of a saeculum, roughly over a period of a hundred years – only to be repeated again.

When overlayered by regional and cultural differences, the manifestations of a generation differ vastly. For example, the very age brackets of the four generations differs in India from their American counterparts. This is because the events that have triggered a generation to emerge in one country were delayed or deleted in another country. As an example, the Baby Boomers of the U.S. are largely shaped by the post-World War II events and the Cold War disaffections. However, the Indian Baby Boomers grew up in the post-Independence era of constrained resources and opportunities with pre-liberalisation policies.

Similarly, as a culture, India perceives generational diversity at a workplace differently as compared to other societies. Having experienced multi-generational diversity in their personal and social realms, most managers are akin to working with other generations. Indian organisations, therefore, experience different challenges and opportunities as compared to those in low power distance cultures.

Values have a significant role to play within this multigenerational intermingling. Lyons et al. defined work values as generalized beliefs about the desirable aspects of work and are known to impact motivation, organizational commitment, decision making, career choice, and organizational citizenship behaviour.

According to Arsenault and Patrick, some of the core values associated with each of the first three generational cohorts are:

The impact of these values transmits to the ways in which they bring themselves to work. Each generation brings with it a different backstory leading from the different value systems and worldview they display. Creating a safe space to share these stories and an open, trusting culture where everyone’s worldview is understood is critical to building an age-diverse environment at work.

In most workplaces, unless consciously wired, these different work styles can lead to tensions and productivity losses. The next blog post in the series looks at some of the challenges faced by organisations when the four generations interact at a single workplace.

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